Study Shows Yoga Provides Relief for Chronic Neck Pain

People struggling with chronic neck pain may soon be prescribed another source of relief than pain-killers or surgery: yoga. 

 According to a recent study, a 9-week yoga practice may be effective in relieving chronic neck pain and offer superior results than a program of home exercise. In the study, volunteers with chronic neck pain, who practiced Iyengar yoga for 9 weeks, experienced significant reduction in neck pain and increased mobility compared to a group that practiced a non-yoga home exercise program. The yoga practice also reduced neck pain intensity and disability and improved health-related quality of life in the trial volunteers. The yoga exercises appeared to influence the functioning of neck muscles, as indicated by improvement in physiological measures of neck pain.

The study results were published in the October 2012 Journal of Pain. The study included 51 volunteers with an avrage age of 57; 80 percent were female. Participants were randomly assigned to one of two groups: 26 of the patients were given a manual of instructions for home exercise, and 25 participated in a 9-week Iyengar yoga program in which they took a 90-minute class once a week.

The participants completed questionnaires and physical assessments at the beginning of the study, at the four- and 10-week marks. The assessments determined the level of pain, the amount the neck pain infringed on the patient’s ability to care for herself, the range of mobility, spatial orientation, pain pressure threshold, and the general health of the participants.

After 9 weeks, both groups reported less neck pain, but the yoga participants were found to have significantly less neck pain than the patients doing home exercise.  They also reported less disability and better mental quality of life. Their pain pressure threshold was improved, as was their spatial orientation and range of motion. In a separate article describing the same study, researchers pointed out that both groups experienced some patients dropping out but that the yoga group had significantly greater percentage of patients who did the exercise and finished the study.

Most people will experience some neck pain in their lives due to postural strain such as sitting at a computer for many hours, sleeping in an awkward position, or poor posture in general. Patients with conditions like osteoporosis, deteriorating disc disease, and arthritis often have micro fractures in cervical vertebrae, and stiff neck muscles resulting in chronic neck pain. Their pain affects their ability to take care of themselves, making it difficult, for example, to drive a car, because they can’t turn their head far enough to look behind them.

The impaired movement is related to loss of spatial orientation, causing accidents and difficulty performing everyday activities. Proven treatments have been limited and are often postponed until the pain is intense enough to require pain medication, muscle relaxants, or surgery.

The findings that an Iyengar yoga practice influenced the function of the neck muscles and relieved pain means that it may have preventative, curative, and palliative applications. Yoga’s ability to train the muscles to support good cervical alignment could improve the condition as well as prevent it. The researchers called for more studies to assess the effect of yoga practice over longer periods of time.

The studies on yoga as a therapy for chronic neck pain bring hope to all of us not only because it is proving successful, but because yoga is a gentle therapy without side effects that can be employed before the pain becomes so intense that we need medication or surgery. We can start now, which is the best part of all.

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