"Doc, you won't believe it. My primary care doctor prescribed yoga."
My researcher shared this prescription news with me recently. After an excruciating flare-up of sciatica, she reached out to her doctor to ask about treatment options. Over-the-counter painkillers weren't cutting it anymore and she wanted to know what else to do.
Longtime readers might remember I've pounded the table on tackling back pain with simple strategies first. In fact, my years of recommending these finally got some backing a few years ago. The American College of Physicians issued guidelines that followed my own stance.
Their evidence-based guideline for low back pain states that any patient should first receive a non-medication treatment. These treatment plans include things like...
4. Heat therapy
But these days, massage might not be in the budget. Or you might be a bit nervous about going back to the massage table if you're in an area with a spike in COVID-19 cases or you're in a group at a higher risk for severe illness.
As my researcher can attest, her flare-ups happen suddenly. Meditation is nearly impossible with that kind of pain, and heat therapy won't cut it either. And her usual long walks at lunchtime couldn't happen when she could barely walk across her living room.
But what has worked? Yoga.
Yoga is a fantastic exercise. It engages different parts of the body, so you can choose to focus on your upper body, lower body, core, and more. Yoga is good for your heart... It's recommended for arthritis relief... And it's proven to help back pain, too.
A 2017 study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that after three months, folks who practiced yoga had better backs. The participants, all complaining of chronic lower-back pain, had similar improvements as those undergoing physical therapy. Better still, they used fewer pain medications than folks who only received educational materials for pain management. This makes yoga a fun and often less expensive alternative for chronic back pain.
Plus, yoga triggers the relaxation system in our bodies. So it relieves stress and brings on a sense of calm. That's something we all definitely need these days.
Yoga starts with a lot of stretching, which is one of my favorite ways to relieve back pain. Stretching helps loosen our muscles and prevents strains and sprains. It's a great way to gently relieve muscle pain and prepare you for more strenuous exercises.
If you want to ease into yoga, you can try some basic stretches first. One of the best books I've read is Stretching, by Bob Anderson. It has been several decades years since its first edition, but the instructions are timeless. (You can purchase a copy right here.)
You can practice yoga in a class or at home. I usually recommend signing up for a class if you're new. Like any new exercise routine, I suggest finding a yoga buddy to keep you accountable. You can also take advantage of studios that offer a block of yoga classes. Making that kind of commitment makes it harder to come up with excuses to skip class.
Though with more people staying home these days, you can check out online offerings. Many apps offer free and paid yoga practices. But one of my favorites is the YouTube channel, Yoga With Adriene. My researcher has been doing this practice for about a week and has already noticed a difference in her pain.
Even though yoga is safe and relatively low impact, if you are worried about any medical concerns, check with your doctor before trying any new exercise.
Editor's note: Our offices here at Stansberry Research will be closed tomorrow in observance of the Fourth of July. Look forward to your next issue of Health & Wealth Bulletin on Monday, July 6. Have a great holiday!
What We're Reading...
- In case you missed it: My favorite stretches for back pain.
- Something different: You had us at bear-sized wombat.
Here's to our health, wealth, and a great retirement,
Dr. David Eifrig and the Health & Wealth Bulletin Research Team
July 2, 2020