Yoga has been studied and practiced for centuries, with as many different types of yoga as there are reasons to practice. From relaxation and increased flexibility to detoxification and restoration, yoga is hailed by practitioners as a cure-all for mental, physical and spiritual health. But can it be used with physical therapy as a pain management solution?
The different types of yoga have many variations including how long the poses are held, the temperature and humidity of the room, and the use of props, but in general, yoga incorporates poses and movements with breathing exercises and meditation. These movements and relaxation techniques help to improve circulation, reduce stress and blood pressure, and improve flexibility and muscle tone, which are all great health benefits.
Traditional physical therapy (PT) is commonly used to treat ailments including muscle and joint pain, as well as recovery from injury and chronic pain. The health benefits gained from regular yoga practice improve circulation, muscle elasticity, balance, and increased range of motion. So it makes sense that, depending on the injury and type of pain, coupling yoga with physical therapy can help to accelerate recovery and treat pain. In fact, a study from the U.K. tested chronic low back pain sufferers and found that patients suffering from low back pain saw increased benefits in mobility and pain management from attending one weekly yoga class, as opposed to those who didn’t practice yoga at all.
Now, it’s important to note that for some pain and injury yoga may not be a safe and plausible option. For example, if you’re recovering from shoulder surgery, performing even simple poses that incorporate shoulder strength and movement may prove to be challenging, painful and detrimental to your recovery. As always, you should consult your doctor or health care professional before making any changes to your recovery plan, and be sure to notify your yoga instructor ahead of time as to any injury or pain you may have.
It’s also important to remember that your physical therapist has been trained to examine the body as a whole, the anatomy and how things work—or aren’t working—and what causes the pain and ailments that you experience. A yoga instructor is educated on how to guide practitioners through breathing exercises, poses and meditation, but doesn’t necessarily have the training and knowledge of the body systems that your PT does. When you pair the mechanical improvements of PT with the mental and physical benefits of yoga, the result is an overall healthier patient but it doesn’t mean you can swap out one for the other.
If you are interested in more information about how to incorporate yoga into your physical therapy program, please contact one of our knowledgeable pain management experts at a Foothills Sports Medicine Physical Therapy clinic.