We all know someone who has tried yoga in order to alleviate their aching back, neck, hips, or shoulders. Yoga has become such a common--and successful--method for addressing orthopedic issues that doctors are even recommending it to their patients.
Dr. Loren Fishman, a physiatrist in New York, is one such physician. This summer, The New York Times featured Dr. Fishman's use of yoga with his orthopedic clients. I applaud the author, Jane E. Brody, for dedicating a large segment of the piece to rotator cuff injuries.
Having coached all type of fitness and back-pain client, I have dealt with many such injuries. In fact, the vast majority of people over the age of 50 have some sort of tear in one of the rotator cuff muscles. These tears are normal, are not likely to cause lasting pain, and will not be resolved by surgical means--but surgeons frequently cut away at the shoulder anyway. I'm encouraged that doctors like Fishman are actually using yoga to solve such structural issues. I've seen similar results with my own clients, for all manner of joint pain.
One statement in the article with which I do take issue, however, is the final sentence of Brody's piece. I'd get rid of the phrase "medical guidance" and instead say "Seek the guidance of a highly-specialized fitness or yoga practitioner."
Because we are not licensed medical practitioners, we are not able to prescribe you addictive pain pills, expensive injections, and unnecessary surgeries that won't relieve your pain. We are required by the restrictions of our profession to deal with the two things that actually will make a difference in how your body feels: The physical structure (bone, muscle, joints) that you carry around, and the mind with which you control that physical structure.
Click here to read Brody's piece.
Dr. Nortin Hadler and Dr. John Sarno were interviewed on The People's Pharmacy to discuss their vast body of research about the mind's implication in the experience of back pain.
Having worked with clients with back, knee, ankle, foot, shoulder, neck, and generalized pain, I can attest to the power of the mind in the treatment of pain--above and beyond physical treatment modalities.
This body-mind connection is the rationale behind my work with clients, which always includes a wellness coaching component. I realized that, while I could train back-pain clients to do back- and core-strength exercises very effectively and relieve their pain within minutes of working with them, a handful of my students had their pain return (or move around) despite continuing their prescribed exercises with perfect execution. I learned very quickly that the mind can have unbounded control over the body's experience of pain. So much so that people with back pain undergo surgery, injections, manipulations, and astronomical medical bills trying to alleviate their pain, and nothing works. The simple reason is that for some chronic pain sufferers, the physical body is not the source of the lingering pain.
Drs. Hadler and Sarno have written and presented brilliantly on the power of the mind to create and alleviate back pain. I highly recommend all of their books, most recently Dr. Nortin Hadler's Stabbed in the Back and Dr. John Sarno's The Divided Mind.
(If you're in the U.S., I recommend using the Indie Store's bookstore finder to locate a local bookstore from which to buy these books, rather than ordering from a big-name store. Here's the link.
Listen to Dr. Hadler's brilliant interview.
Sara Hauber, MA
Coach, listener, observer, writer, and erstwhile teacher; constantly curious
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