Yoga beats meds for back pain

Published 6.21.2017
Movement is essential for health remains a cornerstone of my healthy aging mantra. Movement is essential for health at any age, but since I am in the final third of my time on this plane of existence, my focus tends more towards aging in health. I don't have a specific age number in mind as a goal, longevity itself is insufficient. Longevity with health enough to maintain both intellectual and physical activity is the goal. Maintaining a healthy weight (Health at Every Size is a lie) and moving regular are essential to attaining that goal.

I never took pain medication for my lower back pain, I simply endured it. However, I can testify to the benefits of yoga for relieving lower back pain. I didn’t start doing yoga for my back, as I’ve noted previously I began with the goal of increasing my bone mineral density. The first effect I noticed had nothing to do with bones. After a few weeks of yoga, I no longer had back pain in the evenings. My husband noticed the difference even before I mentioned it because I had stopped requesting back rubs.

Relieving back pain is a second reason that I wholeheartedly recommend yoga to anyone who can do it. I hedge the recommendation because I have friends who can not do yoga, I know a few of the counter indications. In particular, if you have issues with the flexibility of your wrists, many yoga poses are going to be problematic. If you suffer from Meniere’s disease, well, don’t even consider it. I’m sure there are plenty of other conditions that would mean that yoga is not an option— as I so often point out, I am not a medical professional.
But if it is an option for you, it’s well worth a try. Nor is it necessary to spend a ton of money. Taking a live class can be great, but I used Youtube to learn how to do a number of poses correctly. In the typical yoga class, the teacher demonstrates the pose, but doesn’t have time to make individual corrections— or at least that's been the case in all of the classes that I’ve taken. Whereas, you can watch and rewatch a video to try and understand the pose, or find a different video and teacher if it doesn’t make sense.

For myself, as I've written previously, I didn't start in a class or watching videos. My yoga experience began with a book, Loren Fishman MD's Yoga for Osteoporosis: The Complete Guide.
Currently, I am back to doing yoga based on Fishman's book on my own at home. I did attend yoga classes regularly for about half a year, but what I noticed is that each teacher has a different style of yoga, and not all of them meet the requirements that Fishman lays out as bast for stimulating bone growth. Since that's my goal, I think I'm better off following the book. Fishman, of course, has a Youtube video demonstrating the ten minute daily session that he teaches will help.

I note that Fishman got some pushback about his yoga program— not just because he claimed it would work instead of drugs, but because he didn't adequately stress that some of the poses can be dangerous for people with a variety of health problems. In the book, he does offer two modifications for each suggested pose, so I never understood completely what the fuss was about. But then, I looked at the book as a potential strategy to help, not a guarantee.

If nothing else, doing the yoga eliminated my lower back pain, and improved my balance. One of the best ways to avoid a broken bone is not to fall, and good balance is important to achieve that.

Other movement items of note

I think movement is essential, but I don’t think it needs to be wrapped up in any ancestral or “paleo” dogma. I stand while I work during the day, but I also sit in chairs when I eat or am sitting with my family in front of the television. Much as I don’t think sleeping on the floor imparts any nobility to a person, neither does sitting on the floor. By all means sit on the floor if you’d like to do so, but I think you can keep your limbs limber doing yoga or other exercise that has you on the floor and getting up.

How many angels can dance on the head of a pin? Can you define sedentary? Apparently, not everyone has the same definition, and so a standard definition of it and other terms have been suggested. I do understand the importance of agreeing on a standard set of terms, but I think this is over complication and jargoneering for its own sake. Please note: You can't be sedentary if you are standing.

Are activity trackers accurate? Fitness trackers, which many wear while exercising or just to record their steps during the day, were tested to see if they were accurate. I don’t have one of these, but my son does. He does seem to like to monitor how much he moves during the day. His does track his heart rate and it is a Fitbit.

Heart rate was measured accurately (defined as within 5% of the actual heart rate), but energy expenditure (calories burned) was not. For some reason, the devices were worse for men than women. Overall, the Apple iWatch performed best.

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