A new study is showing that yoga can be an essential tool in helping prevent chronic pain or decrease the significance of chronic pain. The study showed that practicing yoga can increase gray matter, while chronic pain often times leads to decreases in gray matter in the brain. The results of this study basically show that regular yoga practicing can help counteract the loss of gray matter that is found in pain patients, and this can help improve overall cognitive functioning.
This new study was discussed during the annual American Pain Society’s meeting with a National Institutes of Health official giving the presentation. The National Institutes of Health official talking about the new study was M. Catherine Bushnell, PhD, scientific director, Division of Intramural Research, National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Bushnell explained how that people with chronic pain often have depression and anxiety, but also there are cognitive function deficits that impact memory and other skills. Both humans and rats have shown alterations in gray matter volume and the integrity of white matter when there is chronic pain involved, which decreases overall quality of life.
The chronic pain patients have different brains than the healthier patients that were part of the study, according to the study results. The people who had depression also showed that they had reduced gray matter, which also could be why chronic pain patients who are depressed have changes in the gray matter as well. This new study showed that there was a direct correlation between the amount of gray matter loss and the chronic pain once depression was taken into account. The gray matter is in the brain tissue and it has a lot of cell bodies located within it. The gray matter can be found in the cerebral cortex and the subcortical areas. The amount of loss in gray matter often times depends on where the loss occurs within the brain. When you have decreased amounts of gray matter, it can lead to memory impairment, emotional problems, and it can also decrease overall cognitive function.
What is interesting is that yoga has an opposite effect on the brain as chronic pain, and studies from the National Institutes of Health have shown how mind-body techniques like yoga can help counteract the chronic pain affects in terms of the brain. Yoga practitioners have more gray matter that helps control more brain regions, including the pain modulation regions, according to multiple studies. Some of the studies have shown that the duration of yoga practice does correspond with the increases in gray matter.
Overall this study proves that gray matter changes in the insula or internal structures of the cerebral cortex are important in terms of pain tolerance. If there are increases in the insula gray matter, then this can help increase pain tolerance, and it can be a result from practicing yoga regularly. When you have brain anatomy changes, it can impact mood disorders and other affective and cognitive comorbidities of chronic pain. This study is very imporant in terms of helping the chronic pain community, because it can give people another option besides prescription medication, and it can also help people who have other disorders such as depression or anxiety. People who are in chronic pain should start practicing yoga because the increases in gray matter are vital to helping control the pain levels in a more natural and healthy manner.
The study results could also be helpful for younger patients who might not be able to tolerate other types of chronic pain treatments, such as higher amounts of medications. The researchers hope that doctors will take this study into account when talking about ways chronic pain patients can manage their pain, and are hoping that more studies can be done on how gray matter increases when you practice the mind-body methods like meditation or yoga. This study also proves that physical therapy and other therapy methods can be more useful in terms of helping manage long-term chronic pain.