HealthPartners study uses yoga to treat chronic pain

- Those suffering with chronic pain are always looking for ways to feel better. Now, researchers are experimenting with a new kind of therapy that’s actually kind of old.

It’s about exercise, and in this case, yoga. The exercise is not just good for the body, but the mind - and for some patients, the practice results in less pain.

When Jenny Mateer’s doctor recommended yoga to treat her chronic pain, she didn’t hesitate.

“I’m willing to do almost anything to not have pain all the time,” she said.

Mateer joined a 10-week study by the HealthPartners Institute trying to establish yoga as an effective pain management therapy.

“It’s been around for 3,000 years, and there’s actually already been a ton of studies chronic pain, lower back pain, insomnia, anxiety,” said Clinical Nurse Specialist Sara Hall.  

But it only works if people actually perform the yoga. Traditional yoga classes are intimidating to many patients, so Hall created adaptive poses people could use at home.

“One of the things I found is that some of the poses are the same movements or exercises I have learned through physical therapy over the years, not knowing that I was doing yoga,” Mateer said. 

And that’s why it seems to work for many of the patients.

“People said their sleep improved, they were able to breathe easier, they had less pain overall,” Hall said. 

But for Mateer, “it helps me relax a little bit which relieves some of that tension, which relieves some of that source pain.”

The HealthPartners Institute is still compiling its research results. But, Jenny knows at least for her, it has helped.

“I have to be active,” she said. “I have to keep moving, otherwise - I joke with my family and friends - I’m going to be an old lady with a bunch of cats in the house. I’m not going to be a cat lady, so I have to keep moving and keep doing things.” 

The HealthPartners Institute will start another series of yoga classes for chronic pain this winter. The program will run eight weeks and will last two hours each session, instead of one, to focus more on teaching how yoga can reduce pain.

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