Chronic pain triggers changes in brain structure that are linked to depression, anxiety, and impaired cognitive function. New research shows that practicing yoga has the opposite effect on the brain and can relieve chronic pain.
Yoga can help people with arthritis, fibromyalgia, migraine, low back pain, and many other types of chronic pain conditions. A study published in Annals of Internal Medicine found that among 313 people with chronic low back pain, a weekly yoga class increased mobility more than standard medical care for the condition. Another study published at nearly the same time found that yoga was comparable to standard exercise therapy in relieving chronic low back pain.
A 2014 pilot study on older women with knee osteoarthritis concluded that a weekly yoga program with home practice is safe and has therapeutic benefits. A 2016 focused review, Effects of Yoga on Symptoms, Physical Function, and Psychosocial Outcomes in Adults with Osteoarthritis, found that yoga practice reduces pain, stiffness, and swelling. Research also tells us that meditative movements, such as yoga, are helpful for improving depression and sleep. And while there are many studies showing the benefits of yoga for various medical conditions, a study out in August 2016, Heart Rate Variability in Chronic Low Back Pain Patients Randomized to Yoga or Standard Care, is particularly interesting.
Chronic pain is known to cause brain anatomy changes and impairments, but yoga can be an important tool for preventing or even reversing the effects of chronic pain on the brain.