Yoga can be instrumental in preventing and reversing the anatomical changes and impairments that chronic pain causes in the brain, new research says.
Many chronic pain patients show associated anxiety and depression as well as deficits in cognitive functions.
“Imaging studies in multiple types of chronic pain patients show their brains differ from healthy control subjects,” said M. Catherine Bushnell, scientific director, Division of Intramural Research, National Institutes of Health (NIH), US.
“Studies of people with depression show they also have reduced grey matter. Our research shows that grey matter loss is directly related to the pain when, we take depression into account,” Bushnell said while speaking at the American Pain Society’s annual meeting recently.
Yogis are found to have more grey matter in multiple brain regions. Grey matter is brain tissue with numerous cell bodies and is located in the cerebral cortex and subcortical areas.
Decreased grey matter can lead to memory impairment, emotional problems and decreased cognitive functioning.
Bushnell said there is compelling evidence from studies conducted at NIH and other sites that mind-body techniques, such as yoga and meditation, can counteract the brain anatomy affects of chronic pain.
“Practising yoga has the opposite effect on the brain as does chronic pain,” said Bushnell.
She said the studies show yoga practitioners have more grey matter than controls in multiple brain regions.
“Some grey matter increases in yogis correspond to duration of yoga practice, which suggests there is a causative link between yoga and grey matter increases,” Bushnell said.
Brain anatomy changes may contribute to mood disorders and other affective and cognitive comorbidities of chronic pain.
“The encouraging news for people with chronic pain is mind-body practices seem to exert a protective effect on brain grey matter that counteracts the neuroanatomical effects of chronic pain,” Bushnell added.