Degenerative conditions like osteoarthritis are some of the conditions causing chronic pain and for which total treatment by medicines is not possible. Majority of the affected people are elderly, who become weak both physically as well as financially, when they start to suffer from these problems.
Visiting hospitals regularly, seeking consultation and spending time and money on tests and treatment becomes frustrating, because the pain relapses repeatedly. Moreover pain killer medicines have adverse effects like causing peptic ulcers and kidney damage to which the elderly are more prone. Knee and hip replacement surgeries are available but are not accessible and affordable for all. One may be having other medical problems and would not be a suitable candidate for a major surgery like knee replacement. Even after surgery, natural flexibility of a joint is not restored in many cases. Thus a person is able to walk by dragging legs but not naturally.
Considering this problem and vast magnitude of people suffering from chronic pain, the National Institute of Health in the US declared 2000-2010 as the decade for pain control and research. Halfway through this decade, yoga has been recognised as an effective measure in control of chronic pain.
Yoga is a form of exercises from ancient India. It has 3 aspects, physical exercises, breath control and meditation. Among the physical exercises, there are specific ones which help to restore and improve the flexibility of joints, increase range of movement, strengthen the backbone and reduce pain along with these benefits. One can do yoga before any other exercise or doing sports.
Breath control or pranayam and meditation help to reduce physical and mental stress. This not only provides relaxation but also reduces pain by reducing the stiffness of muscles and joints. By increasing mental strength and self control, it aids a person to give up harmful addicting substances like tobacco and alcohol, thus helping in keeping the body healthy.
The biggest advantage of yoga is that after learning, one can do it by himself/herself at home. No other material is needed, except a mat or blanket to spread on the ground on which to sit and do yoga. A person having still joints or some other problem need not do the full range of motion as prescribed in a specific exercise. One should start slowly and gradually increase the range of motion and number of times of exercise. The stretching or movement of any joint should be as comfortable as possible. In no way should a joint be stretched to the point of being painful or having discomfort afterwards. It should be such that after finishing the exercise one should feel comfortable and relaxed.
The only condition for doing yoga is like for any other exercise, i.e. the stomach should be empty. Hence it should be done either before breakfast in the morning or at least 2 hours or more after any major meal. It is advisable to learn the exercises properly by a trained or experienced person. If one feels any problem after doing it, it means some mistake has occurred somewhere and the trainer or a doctor should be consulted.
Maximum advantage would be obtained when one is regular with the yoga exercises. If the pain does not cure totally, it will still be reduced to the extent that one feels comfortable and can do without medicines or minimum medicines.
Dr. Rachna Pande is a Specialist in internal medicine-Ruhengeri Hospital