Broken Bones and Yoga

Dr Swami Shankardevananda Saraswati, MB, BS (Syd.)

At 6 p.m. on the 15th July 1979, Mrs Sarita Bhandari, aged 30 of Monghyr, was driving along the Patna-Monghyr highway with her husband when the car skidded and hit a tree. The impact caused her great pain to the left shoulder while her husband received a mild shock. They then drove to Patna in search of a hospital, and to distract herself from the pain she used breath awareness techniques she had been taught at the Bihar School of Yoga. Despite the numerous jerks and bumps of the car caused by the poor condition of the road she felt little pain and was quite relaxed when she reached Patna hospital at 8.00 p.m. The other people in the car who were not injured took tranquilizers but she decided not even to take a painkiller until doctors had seen to her injury.

At Patna hospital, no doctor could attend to her as it was a Sunday and they were off duty. That night she slept with the help of Novalgin and yoga nidra and the next morning was admitted to the hospital after her X-ray report revealed a fracture with slight displacement. The next evening at 5 p.m. it was reduced under general anaesthetic and she was advised to take six weeks of bed rest. During this time both her arms developed oedema (swelling) forcing them to be suspended by a sling.

After six weeks, the bones had still not set and an X-ray on the 28th September showed non-union. She was suffering from pain at the fracture site and the left shoulder joint could not be raised more than 45 degrees. She could not use her left hand either for lifting or for simple jobs such as holding a glass. From September to mid-December it was recommended that she perform some physiotherapy, however, there was no change on her X-rays or in her subjective symptoms by the 27th December.

She then went to visit a leading Delhi orthopaedic surgeon who recommended surgery followed by a consultation with a second opinion in the hope that she might gain a reprieve. However, he told her that as union had not taken place after so many months, there was no hope apart from bone graft surgery - a radical procedure.

On the 1st February she came to visit BSY and we advised her to postpone surgery for two months and practise pawanmuktasana part 1 with emphasis on the hand, shoulder and neck exercises. At the end of March she returned to Patna for X-rays. Much to the surprise of all concerned, union had taken place and her subjective symptoms of pain and stiffness had subsided.

We feel that the dramatic improvement in Mrs Bhandari's condition after she started the correct sequence of yoga practices occurred for the following reasons:

  1. Her six weeks of immobility in bed caused her blood circulation to become sluggish and thus oedema occurred. Then her arms were placed in a sling which further constricted blood flow to the affected area.
  2. There is no provision in medical science for adequate relaxation of tension, let alone to reduce the severe muscle spasms which accompany traumatic injury. Physiotherapy is insufficient and mind science is not developed in this line.
  3. The pawanmuktasana series of exercises allowed gentle exercise to be given to the surrounding area releasing tension and thereby decreasing the excessive sympathetic nervous system activity which had been initiated by the pain and preceding trauma. Blood flow to the site was enhanced.
  4. The process of healing was aided by the use of other yogic practices such as pranayama and yoga nidra.

The fact that yoga had a significant role to play in this fracture of the clavicle should alert doctors and specialists in the field of orthopaedics to utilize the principles and dynamics of yogic therapy for other forms of fracture and for trauma in general.

Yoga's ability to exert considerable influence on the mental sphere and to improve relaxation at both mental and physical levels has the added advantage of inducing greater calm in the face of injury and this in itself helps to speed up the healing process. Yoga can also eliminate, to a certain extent, the fear component of pain. People with fractures (and especially those of the neck of the femur) may be saved considerable pain and suffering, if yoga is used as an adjunct to their therapy.