Yoga for Chronic Elbow Pain: Must Use Props

by | Nov 2, 2021 | 2 comments

Chronic Elbow Pain?

If you are someone who’s suffering from chronic elbow pain, this article is for you. Experiencing multiple treatment failures and wasting loads of time, I’ve found that practicing yoga for chronic elbow pain is one of the few things that has helped. Read on to find out more.

Treatment Failures: Turning to Yoga for Chronic Elbow Pain

During the summer of 2020 (yes, during a pandemic), I decided to have a major accident. At 6:40 in the morning, I took my bicycle out for a quick spin, but didn’t get very far.

Having biked all of 0.2 miles down my narrow street, I found myself face-to-face with the pavement. I shattered my elbow and needed surgery to repair the bones.

Well, I was under the impression I’d have the surgery, rest and heal, do the therapy afterward, get better, and be on my way. That’s right, my goal was to be back at work in under three weeks.

Boy, was I in for a HUGE surprise! And, unfortunately, a terrible journey through our healthcare system.

I was given opioid pain medicine, instructed to attend occupational therapy (OT), and told my arm was healed. Thing was… if my arm was “healed”, why wasn’t it moving?

Nobody could answer that question. None of my providers could tell me why my elbow remained stuck. And a timeline? Forget about it. I’d ask how long I would be in pain or when my arm would start moving again. More crickets. No answers. Frustrated wasn’t even the word.

So, I needed to take matters into my own hands. Being a board-certified holistic nurse and avid practitioner of yoga, prior to my injury, I decided enough was enough with western medicine.

I turned to yoga for chronic elbow pain.

Yoga for Chronic Elbow Pain: Complex Regional Pain Syndrome

I practiced yoga prior to my fall. I worked at a gym in the past, been to many yoga studios, practiced on the beach, followed yogis online, and took routine classes at my local rec center.

After my bike accident, the first thing out of my mouth at OT was, “I gotta get back to yoga. I HAVE to use this arm! I NEED to do yoga.”

In the early weeks, I couldn’t even think of practicing yoga for pain. My arm hurt way too much. Maybe I should have pushed through. Maybe it could’ve helped.

I can tell you this… I know one reason I was afraid of trying was I felt skeptical about my ability to do the poses. That’s right… I thought, because of my bent arm, I couldn’t practice yoga at all. Honestly, how was I going to hold myself up in downward facing dog with one arm?

Well, the pain didn’t go away. In fact, my surgeon was so concerned with my lack of progress and increased pain levels, he sent me to an interventional pain specialist. I was diagnosed with complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS), which meant a potential lifetime of chronic pain.

Yoga for Chronic Elbow Pain: Can I Do It?

I still had my OT goal bouncing around in my head, “I gotta get back to yoga…” I knew holistic modalities promoted relaxation, welcoming healing on all levels… mind, body, and spirit. So, I did the unthinkable…

Just a little over a month out of surgery, I signed up for an online yoga teacher training course. Sure, I thought it was ludicrous. I wasn’t even practicing… now I was going to become a teacher!?!?

I emailed the course instructor, almost seeking a way out. I told him about my surgery, limited range of motion, inability to put pressure on my arm, increased pain levels, and CRPS diagnosis. TMI? Maybe. But this was a high-priced training. I was limited in my ability to move. I wanted to be sure that I could actually do it, avoid wasting my money on something that wasn’t for me.

His response… the course was healing on all levels. Students could go at their own pace, do what they could. The course instructor told me that past students had gone through the training with afflictions similar to mine, some even worse. And, he shared something with me I will never forget…

He said the yoga poses aren’t something that you try to get into. Instead, yoga postures are a way for us to get into our bodies. Feel our bodies. Heal our bodies.

I was convinced. I was on a mission. Heal myself through yoga. Western medicine wasn’t doing it for me. What could I lose?

Props Become King When Using Yoga for Chronic Elbow Pain

Remember, I told you I was feeling skeptical about my ability to get into the yoga poses with one arm? Well, that was because I was thinking about yoga from my twenty-something-year-old mentality. I was under the impression I had to “look good” or appear “strong” during yoga practice.

Sheesh, I was wrong again!

Just as my yoga instructor told me that very first day of training, “You use the poses to get into the body.” Practicing yoga for chronic elbow pain was a way for me to feel into the aches and release them.

And… light bulb moment…

Yoga props are AHHHH-MAZING!

That’s right. When I was practicing yoga before my accident with that “twenty-something” mindset, I was striving for perfection. Yoga teachers would approach me in class, offering me a block or a bolster, and I’d scoff at them, shooing them away from me. “I don’t need props…” I thought. That would mean that I needed help. I didn’t need any help… I was a beautiful, limber, and independent yogi.

After elbow surgery, living with CRPS, and practicing yoga for chronic elbow pain, I decided to try using a block. I only had one, at the time, as I was using it as a seat for meditation. I couldn’t get enough of it! In fact, I quickly bought more blocks. I found things to use around my house for a strap. I had a foam roller that I used for other things… it quickly became my bolster. I got another one.

I was hooked. I realized using props to practice yoga when you’re dealing with chronic elbow pain is the BEST thing you can do.

Putting a block under your injured arm can support you getting into a pose. Even, lying on your back, with one foot up in the air and stretching it with a strap, you can place a block under your upper arm to support it in place. See that… using a strap and block in the same move.

I use props ALL THE time. A block can help with tabletop pose, downward facing dog, stretching side-to-side, in forward folds, and even sitting crossed-legged. A strap can help when you cannot straighten your arm to reach… the strap gets you into the reach that you’d normally be doing with a straight arm.

Practicing yoga for chronic elbow pain is really one of the few things which have helped. Of course, other holistic activities, such as qigong, reiki, meditation, aromatherapy, and sound healing, have also supported my healing journey. However, with the revelation that I could use props to assist me in the yoga poses, I am a huge advocate for practicing yoga for chronic elbow pain.

Ready to heal after elbow surgery? Check us out and come join us!

About the Author: Elizabeth Scala MSN/MBA, RN, HNB-BC, RYT (200) is a board-certified holistic nurse, registered yoga instructor, and reiki master.

Elizabeth received her dual master’s degree from Johns Hopkins University. She is a certified coach and avid meditator.

Elizabeth lives in Maryland with her supportive husband and playful pit bull. She enjoys gardening, jigsaw puzzles, farming, music, and hiking.

2 Comments

  1. Maxine Bornstein, RN, MS AHN-BC, HWNC-BC, Reiki Master Teacher

    Hi Elizabeth,
    Congratulations on your ongoing recovery and yoga registration. Your article was inspiring and fun to read:)
    Keep up the great work with Reiki, meditation, yoga, and writing. I love your style.
    Warmest wishes, Maxine

    Reply
    • Elizabeth

      Thanks, Maxine!

      Reply

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