Ask The Pharmacist: Yoga may help blood pressure, chronic pain, headaches

Question: Dear Pharmacist, I have neck pain, sciatica and headaches. I’ve tried prednisone, Celebrex, Ibuprofen, Vicodin, physical therapy, chiropractors, massage, reiki, acupuncture, prayer work, laser and two surgeries on my neck. Nothing helps. Please, any ideas? D.C., San Diego, California.

Answer: Assuming your diet is good, I’d try yoga next. I hear you thinking, “I can’t even sit without pain, why should I twist myself into a knot?” Because research proves yoga can help certain types of neck and back pain, headaches, migraines, anxiety, high blood pressure and osteoporosis. Since you’ve tried addictive narcotics, anti-inflammatories, steroids, surgery and whatever else, spending thousands of dollars and suffering endlessly, I think yoga’s worth a shot. It has no side effects other than making you feel refreshed, sort of like a human breath mint!

In a 2012 German study, researchers saw how a nine-week yoga program helped participants with chronic neck pain. Yoga has been around for centuries, and there’s no harm so long as you don’t push your body past its limits, but in your case, I would still get your physician and chiropractor’s blessings. And speaking of “blessings,” I’ve never associated a religious connotation with yoga, it’s about stretching and breathing. Besides, you’ll be the life of the party if you can turn yourself into a human pretzel!

If your hips are tight, it may be the result of inflexibility, and it can subsequently cause your knee joint to become misaligned with the other bones in your leg, causing pain throughout the leg. Sciatica is a rather common condition in which lower back pain extends into one or both legs, by way of the sciatic nerve. A January 2013 study demonstrated that certain “asanas” or yoga poses relieved symptoms of sciatica including pain, rigidity and walking.

Flexibility helps your posture, and the strength that yoga builds in your bones and muscles may reduce your odds for arthritis. A systematic review was performed earlier this year in New Zealand, evidence showed regular yoga practice might alleviate pain caused by musculoskeletal disorders. What about your bones? Different yoga poses and transitions create mild stress on your bones, which causes the bone to become denser (and stronger!) in order to balance out this stress. Your mind benefits too. A 2012 study performed in London showed yoga and meditation significantly reduced anxiety and blood pressure and improved mood. That occurs by increasing “happy” serotonin levels, while lowering cortisol, a stress hormone. Choose classes carefully, when I walked into my first yoga class and it was 105 degrees! It’s called “Bikram” yoga, or sometimes “hot yoga.” What a nightmare for me, I despise heat. I could not get out of there fast enough. So call in advance and ask about the class you want to take. Classes labeled “restorative” or “yin” are gentle, and cool, also those labeled “Vinyasa” or “Hatha” are also fairly easy, at least for me. Start out slowly and with your doctor’s permission since you’ve had surgeries.

Suzy Cohen is a registered pharmacist. The information presented here is not intended to treat, cure or diagnose any condition. Always consult your physician. Visit dearpharmacist.com.

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