Indian researchers recently published a randomized controlled trial showing that a yoga-based program reduced the healing time of extra-articular (situated or occurring outside a joint) fractures. While improved fracture healing may not come to mind as one of yoga’s most immediately obvious benefits, it is consistent with preliminary evidence on the beneficial effects that yoga and other mind-body practices appear to have on the immune system and inflammatory processes.
Researchers Oswal, Nagarathna, Ebnezar, and Ramaro Nagendra (2011) report that fracture healing is a considerable problem in the US as well as India, with an estimated 62 million occurring in the US annually, of which 5-10% experience delayed or failed healing. Even fractures healing at a normal rate take months to heal, during which time socioeconomic and personal costs, as well as patient quality of life, suffer considerably.
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Thirty fracture patients with extra-articular fractures were randomly assigned to a yoga or control group. Both groups received conventional care for the fractures, but the yoga group received adjunctive instruction in YPET (yogic prana energization technique), a protocol consisting of “breath regulation, chanting, and visualization, which according to yogic science revitalizes the tissues by activating the subtle energies (prana) within the body.” Yoga subjects were taught the YPET technique for one week before being given audiotapes and instructed to practice the technique on their own for thirty minutes twice daily over a 2-week period.
Both groups improved considerably, but reductions in pain and tenderness were significantly better in the yoga compared to the control group. The swelling was reduced in the YPET group 93% compared to 69.4% in controls, but this finding was not statistically significant. Perhaps most intriguingly, the increase in fracture line density and united cortices (markers of improved fracture wound healing) were significantly improved in the yoga compared to control group, leading the researchers to conclude that “add-on yoga-based YPET accelerates fracture healing.”
Interestingly, the “yoga” did not include yoga asana (physical postures), which has become synonymous with yoga and most yoga research in the West. This study is a good reminder of the diversity of yoga and how these nonphysical practices can strongly affect the physical body.