Fitness Magazine

Case Study: Yoga and Pain Management

By Ninazolotow @Yoga4HealthyAge
by Baxter

Case Study: Yoga and Pain Management

Opening by Melina Meza

Chronic pain is usually defined as any pain that has been present for more than three months. Once it has been present for that long, it gets harder and harder to reduce or resolve the pain completely. However, in my experience, yoga tools for pain management (see post How Yoga Helps with Pain Management), have proven very effective to lower the day-to-day pain levels of those suffering from chronic pain. To illustrate this, here’s a short case study of a woman I worked with several years ago. 
C. N. was a 45 year-old woman referred to me by my colleague who had been addressing her complaints of persistent, chronic neck pain following a car accident about four and a half months earlier. She had been diagnosed with a mild form of whiplash (neck strain), and was treated with anti-inflammatory medications, local ice and heat, physical therapy, and regular acupuncture, with gradual improvement in her symptoms but without complete and lasting relief. My colleague requested that I teach her some yoga breathing techniques to address her pain. 
I learned that C.N. worked as a manager at a busy firm, overseeing 12 other employees, spending most of the day at her computer in her private office, but with meetings interspersed throughout her day. Prior to her accident, she had been healthy, exercised regularly, had a healthy diet, and enjoyed life. She did admit to being mildly anxious at times, but not to the point of needing any treatment for it. 
Since the accident, her neck and upper shoulders were a source of daily pains that fluctuated but never went completely away. On average, her pain was around a 3-4 level on a scale of 1-10. And as the months had gone on, as she worked at her desk she worried about the pain, and she realized that the pain and worry were interfering with her normally good focus and concentration. 
Because she had never done any yoga or meditation in the past, I chose to introduce her to the simplest form of breath practice: simple breath awareness. She tried practicing it in Relaxation pose (Savasana) in the office as well as in a seated position, and reported that she was able to keep her attention focused on her breath moment-by-moment fairly easily for two minutes. I instructed her to practice this again after she got home that evening and again first thing in the morning, and recommended she take short breath awareness breaks at work every hour or so. 
She reported back to me two days later to tell me that she had dramatic improvement in her pain levels, and her old focus and concentration had returned. She said what happened was that as she returned home after her appointment with me, she tried to think of ways she could successfully practice at work what she had learned in the office that day. As she took an evening bath, she noticed that she could hear her breath very easily and loudly in the tub, and how that made it much easier to stay connected to her breath without getting distracted. She then remembered having had a similar experience when hearing earplugs in the past and had an idea: she would take a pair of earplugs to work and when she was not in meetings or on the phone, she would use the earplugs to assist in her breath awareness practices, which she did regularly for the next two days. She reported a 50% decrease in her overall pain levels in just two days! 
With that dramatic success, I recommended she continue to work with her breath in the same way for the coming weeks, and that she should also look for a gentle yoga class in the community and a teacher experienced with working with chronic pain to assist in her ongoing recovery. I heard back from my colleague that she continued to improve over time.
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