In the middle of a prescription painkiller overdose crisis in the United States, a San Diego VA study finds that veterans with chronic pain would be well-served to put down the pills and pick up a yoga mat.
After six months of twice-a-week yoga sessions, San Diego veterans reported a significant drop in back pain — one of the signature complaints of a demographic that suffers higher rates of chronic pain than the general population.
Also, the number of patients in the study on opiate-based pain pills dropped from 20 percent to 8 percent. It’s a potentially important finding, as the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs weans its members off of long-term addictive painkillers such as hydrocodone and fentanyl.
One of the study participants was Joe Sturdivant, a 52-year-old retired Marine.
After 22 years in uniform, and miles and miles of patrols carrying heavy packs, Sturdivant’s back was a mess.
“In the Marine Corps, you learn to suck stuff up. So I just dealt with it,” he said. “I thought it would go away. But I guess it was more severe than I expected.”
One day, his back flared up and Sturdivant had to drive himself to the emergency room — unable to even crawl out of his truck once he arrived. Orderlies had to come collect him on a stretcher.
That experience pushed the tough Marine to become open to the yoga study last year.
“I thought yoga was for women,” he said. “I always see women with the yoga pants on.”
The San Diego study published last month in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine showed that the yoga-mat veterans also reported less fatigue and improved physical functioning.
The connection between yoga and the pill reduction is murky, in part because the San Diego researchers didn’t intend to study that factor when they got funding for the study six years ago.
The opiate overdose epidemic in the United States only emerged in the past few years.
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