Added on August 17, 2017
Yoga is on the rise and making an impact on conventional physical therapy. According to the National Center for Complementary & Integrative Health, 21 million U.S. adults participate in some form of yoga – doubling in size over the last 15 years. While it is relatively new in the West, yoga is well-established in many countries and older than "Western" medicine – originating in the East thousands of years ago. Yoga incorporates meditations, breathing exercises, self-reflection, along with body alignment work and balance poses to foster physical, mental, and spiritual health (Stephens, 2017).
While all societies have medical treatments and techniques based on their culture, philosophy, and religion, yoga boasts a developing body of highly promising research - particularly related to physical therapy and pain management in a variety of conditions. It's important to understand that the exact therapeutic effects of yoga, either exclusively or as an adjunct to conventional therapy, is still currently being explored. Now, let's take a look at yoga and how it can be a strong complement to conventional physical therapy.
All muscles are covered by fascia (pronounced fash-ee-uh), a strong connective tissue that surrounds and separates muscles. Fascia is adaptive and plays a role in posture, movement, and sometimes even pain, after an injury or surgery. Within fascia, there are receptors that are part of the nervous system, and relay information about movement. Yoga poses stimulate this tissue, promoting adaptation that may not be efficiently addressed with single joint exercises.
While more research is needed, some evidence supports that combining yoga and conventional physical therapy may yield favorable results in recovery. A studyby Nilima Bedekar (2012) examined conventional therapy with the addition of yogasanas (movement postures) in patients following total knee replacement surgeries, and found that combing yoga and physical therapy leads to improved pain relief, less stiffness, and improved overall function.
Regional interdependence refers to the concept that seemingly unrelated impairments in unrelated body parts may contribute to the primary complaint (Wainner, 2007). For example, hip weakness or poor ankle flexibility often plays a role in knee pain. When injured, a physical therapist will look at more than just the problem area and will assess multiple joints to target their treatment. Often, these muscle deficiencies in various locations can be challenged by a single yoga pose. For instance, child's pose can target shoulder, back, and hip mobility promoting a more complete treatment. This allows the therapist to utilize more effective exercises and address multiple problems simultaneously.
The physical component of yoga is one of its many branches. Strong research is emerging in the field of psychology supporting the use of meditation and yoga principles to help address distressful emotional states including anxiety, depression, trauma, and pain. Pain, especially when chronic, is more than just a physical irritation to the body. Psychological factors and mal-adaptive beliefs about pain often contribute to symptoms. Incorporating yoga philosophies in certain populations might have a powerful effect in regulating pain and improving well-being.
If used in conjunction with conventional physical therapy, new research is suggesting that yoga has the ability to aid with treating multiple muscles at once, potentially speeding up recovery, improving muscle movement and focus the mind. The more we learn about the benefits of these seemingly different aspects of health, the more we realize the combination of the two goes well beyond flexibility and strength building.
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2. Stephens, I. (2017). Medical Yoga Therapy. Children, 4(2), 12.
3. Bedekar N, Prabhu A, Shyam A, Sancheti K, Sancheti P (2012) Comparative study of conventional therapy and additional yogasanas for knee rehabilitation after total knee arthroplasty. Int J Yoga 5:118-122. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22869995
4. Wainner, R. S., Whitman, J. M., Cleland, J. A., & Flynn, T. W. (2007). Regional interdependence: a musculoskeletal examination model whose time has come.
5. Wren, A. A., Wright, M. A., Carson, J. W., & Keefe, F. J. (2011). Yoga for persistent pain: new findings and directions for an ancient practice. Pain, 152(3), 477.