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Does yoga help with pain relief?

Absolutely, says HealthPartners Institute study participant who suffers from back pain, fibromyalgia

Pain is a constant in Jenny Mateer’s life. On a scale of 1 to 10, she endures a pain level of 7 on any given day.

“I am someone who has chronic pain. It’s especially bad in my neck and shoulders and in my lower back,” Jenny said. “On top of that, I also have fibromyalgia. This condition sometimes makes even a slight touch to my skin painful. I will do just about anything to not hurt all the time.”

The idea of doing downward dog or other yoga poses may not seem like an option for Jenny, but she says it is working. This summer, she was one of 33 people who took part in a HealthPartners Institute research study to see if yoga can help relieve chronic pain. For 10 weeks, these patients went to weekly yoga classes and practiced yoga poses at home. And already, they have seen some positive results.

“We are arming patients with self-care skills. We are teaching them that by moving gradually, they can see a lot of improvement,” said pain management clinical nurse specialist Sara Hall, CNS-A. In addition to her work with this study, Hall develops individualized pain plans for a variety of patients at Regions Hospital. Some of these patients are living with chronic pain that stems from an indeterminable cause. Others have been diagnosed with cancer and are going through treatments. And still others are recovering from any number of different surgeries.

Patients with chronic pain are often intimidated to walk into a yoga studio. They can even be hesitant to try a beginner class. That’s because many have a fear of not being able to do the poses. Or, they think they will “look different” than others.

The patients who were part of the HealthPartners Institute study, however, had access to yoga classes that were specially created for them. Traditional poses were altered so everyone could take part. And they focused on breathing exercises and meditation, too. Each week, patients were also given “OMwork.” This was to encourage them to continue practicing the new techniques they’d learned at home.

Image: Jenny Mateer does chair yoga at the HealthPartners Neuroscience Center

Jenny Mateer, front, does chair yoga at the HealthPartners Neuroscience Center. She is one of 33 people who took part in a HealthPartners Institute study to see if yoga can help ease chronic pain.

“These patients are learning a solution that can last for the long term. And hopefully over time with it, they will depend less on pain medication,” Hall said.

Throughout the study, patients used a log to record what exercises they did. They jotted down how the poses made them feel, as well as the overall daily pain level they felt. Now, researchers are analyzing the feedback to come to a conclusion about just how effective the yoga was in treating and relieving pain.

“I have had some initial relief in regard to my pain. And I am sure it will continue. It is just a matter of making sure I follow through regularly,” Jenny said.

Hall says plans are in the works to continue group yoga classes for patients who are seen in the HealthPartners Pain Management Clinic at our Neuroscience Center. And Jenny says she recommends other people who are suffering from pain give adapted yoga classes a try, too.

Interested in trying a yoga class to relieve pain?

TRIA has a variety of yoga options available, including chair yoga. Group classes take place at the TRIA Fit & Well Gym in Bloomington. Patients, as well as community members who are not patients, can take these classes for a small fee. Private sessions are also offered.

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