Tele-yoga – offering yoga via real-time interactive video – is a promising new treatment for chronic pain. Pain is the most common health complaint and the leading cause of work disability worldwide. Opioids are commonly prescribed for chronic pain but they do not work. Worse, they lead to addiction and death from overdose. Indeed, there is currently an international opioid epidemic. Clearly, we need non-drug treatments for chronic pain.
One option may be yoga, an ancient mind-body practice that combines meditation with controlled breathing, focused attention, and physical postures. Yoga has grown in popularity in Western society over the past 20 years. Many people with chronic pain are already using it. Even better, research shows that it works. Yet, not everyone has access to yoga. Some people live in remote settings where yoga is unavailable. Others may not have access to specialized yoga for pain management. Pain can also be a barrier to treatment if people have restricted movement or transportation. A way to overcome these barriers is to offer yoga via real-time interactive video (“tele-yoga”). Students and yoga instructors see each other on the screen and can give feedback. Clinical tele-yoga programs are currently offered through some Veterans Affairs hospitals and seem to be beneficial for pain and mood. However, there is still so much we do not know: which yoga style is most suited for tele-yoga for pain management? What is the easiest technology to use? Can we safely deliver tele-yoga for pain? Should tele-yoga be offered in-home or only at remote health care clinics where support staff are available? Can tele-yoga be offered to everyone or only certain populations? Is tele-yoga as effective as in-person yoga for pain? This is an exciting new field that has the potential to greatly improve pain management. However, we shouldn’t jump the gun and roll-out tele-yoga treatments before we know how best to implement them. If the opioid crisis is high on the agenda for policy makers, funding bodies need to support more research to answer these important questions.
Danielle C. Mathersul, PhD – Dr. Mathersul is a postdoctoral fellow at VA Palo Alto Health Care System and Stanford University School of Medicine where she is working with Dr. Peter J. Bayley’s lab to evaluate meditation and yoga as potential treatments for chronic pain and posttraumatic stress disorder. She is a licensed clinical psychologist in Australia (where she completed her PhD and clinical training) and has a long-standing personal yoga practice.
Danielle C. Mathersul
First Published April 2, 2018