Research from the National Institutes of Health shows that 126 million U.S. adults (that’s more than half of the adult population) live with chronic pain. The temporary nature of acute pain helps us deal with it (ie, don’t use that finger: the cut is still healing).
However, chronic pain – lasting longer than 3 months – can foster depression, anxiety, fatigue, insomnia, and more, as we seek to manage the interruption in our activities of daily living over time.
People with chronic pain are three times more likely to develop depression. “Experiencing depression, mood fluctuations, anxiety, altered perceptions and cognition, and emotional instability are all commonly associated with chronic pain.
This is a result of the perceived stress that impacts the body on a physical and chemical level.” In addition, chronic pain makes it hard to get restorative sleep, which can then increase pain.
Fortunately, current data demonstrates that there are a lot of practices, tools, and resources available to us to manage chronic pain and the stress that accompanies it. These practices have no side effects and, in many cases, have been proven to be even more effective than pharmaceuticals!
What are sustainable, accessible things you can implement to reduce chronic pain and cultivate long-term overall wellness?
1. Yoga, Especially Restorative & Gentle
Gentle and Restorative Yoga help release stored tension from the tissues. Restorative Yoga in particular uses props to support the body, creating a sense of safety for the nervous system and allowing the brain to rest from the bracing & hypervigilance common in chronic pain. Gentle yoga can safely increase the range of motion in the joints, reducing stiffness
In the joints, muscles, and connective tissue, Yoga can increase the flow of fresh blood into the cells, while enhancing the release of metabolic waste. This increase in nourishment and cleansing functions within the tissues can help heal the initial chronic pain injury, while also addressing the snowball effect of secondary pain and limited mobility.
Various studies have demonstrated that yoga helps reduce pain perception, decrease inflammation, and improve mobility among people with a range of chronic pain conditions. Yoga can rebalance the body’s chemical response to pain, releasing feel-good hormones while minimizing stress and tension.
2. Pranayama & Breathwork
Pranayama (aka “breath control”) and breathing practices can have profound impacts on the body’s experience and perception of pain. Our muscles hold tension and guard as a result of chronic pain, and in turn further aggravate the pain itself. Diaphragmatic, deep breathing has an extremely therapeutic effect on chronic pain by profoundly relaxing the muscles and reducing this pain cycle response.
In fact, the National Institutes of Health found that yoga and pranayama “harmonize the physiological system and initiate a relaxation response in the neuro endocrinal system. This consists of decreased metabolism, quieter breathing, stable blood pressure, reduced muscle tension, lower heart rate and slow brain wave pattern.”
Researchers have demonstrated amazing correlations between Electroenchephalography (EEG) patterns and breath patterns: slow breathing increases the α waves in the EEG, and adding feedback of breath sounds further significantly increased it from baseline.
“Diaphragmatic breathing is probably the single most valuable thing that a patient in chronic pain can learn on the road to recuperation.”
“Meditation and pranayama, along with relaxing yoga poses, can help individuals deal with the emotional aspects of chronic pain, reduce anxiety and depression effectively and improve the quality of life perceived.” The positive impacts of meditation go beyond relaxation within the muscles and impact the deepest layers of our nervous system.
Research shows that meditation uses neural pathways that make the brain less sensitive to pain and increases use of the brain’s own pain-reducing opioids. Meditation is free, and the only side effects you’ll have to worry about are feeling blissed out or possibly dozing off. Meditation is incorporated in almost every Yoga class: usually in the form of savasana, or “corpse pose”, at the very end.
4. Myofascial Release & Massage
Therapeutic massage & bodywork may relieve chronic pain by way of several mechanisms, including relaxing tense muscles, tendons, and joints; relieving stress & anxiety; and possibly helping to “close the pain gate” by stimulating competing nerve fibers and impeding pain messages to and from the brain.
Massage lowers heart rate & blood pressure, reduces stress, increases relaxation, reduces pain & tension, improves circulation, helps balance hormones, improves immune function, and much more.
It can be especially effective in reducing chronic pain – both the source of the pain itself, as well as the snowball effect of emotional & physical tension due to the initial cause.
If you suffer from chronic patterns of tension that come from old injuries, scar tissue, and/or compensatory muscle / soft tissue fatigue, give your body the attention it needs to heal with myofascial release or massage.
It takes the body longer to unwind and reprogram if it has been out of alignment for a long period of time, meaning multiple sessions will help you avoid a rebound effect where the muscles and or connective tissue go right back after only one or two sessions.
5. Other Practices
There are a host of other nourishing, supportive practices you can implement to reduce chronic pain itself and the negative impacts it has on the mind, body, and spirit. These include goal setting, mindfulness training, sleep routine, and behavioral therapies. See below for recommended reading and resources.
How Can We Help?
At Waynesville Yoga Center, we offer many modalities of healing that can help you manage your chronic pain, such as:
- daily yoga classes with seasoned instructors who can offer modifications & props to best support you and your pain
- virtual programs, such as Yoga for Back Care, that you can access and benefit from at home
- Myofascial Release, Massage, and Bodywork to reduce pain & inflammation and address the root causes of chronic pain
Contact us for details: 828.246.6570 – firstname.lastname@example.org
Yoga For Pain Relief, by Kelly McGonigal
Yoga Nidra, by Richard Miller
The Body Keeps the Score, by Bessel Van Der Kolk
Waking by Matthew Sanford