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Glaucoma Patients Warned To Avoid Head-Down Yoga Poses And Push-Ups

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Experts have an important warning for glaucoma patients who practice yoga.

Persons with this eye condition may experience greater eye pressure when they perform various head-down yoga positions as well as push-ups and weightlifting, warned a new study from researchers at New York Eye and Ear Infirmary of Mount Sinai.

The team led by Dr. Robert Ritch published their findings in the journal PLOS One.

Glaucoma, the most common cause of irreversible blindness in the United States, can drastically affect quality of life through moderate to severe loss of vision. In the country, 2.7 million over age 40 suffer from it, with figures predicted to rise to 4.2 million by 2030.

Elevated Eye Pressure When Performing Inverted Yoga Positions

As an ancient Indian wellness practice, yoga seeks to harmonize body with breath and mind through a rich combination of breathing methods and physical postures.

While encouraging individuals to lead an active lifestyle, Dr. Ritch’s team issued caution for glaucoma sufferers practicing this booming form of exercise in Western countries.

"[C]ertain types of activities, including pushups and lifting heavy weights, should be avoided by glaucoma patients due to the risk of [intraocular pressure or IOP] and possibly damaging the optic nerve," warned Dr. Ritch, urging physicians to advise their patients on the potential risks of yoga positions and inverted-pose exercises.

IOP is the leading risk factor for glaucoma-related damage, and is currently the only one for which therapy can prevent or slow the disease's progress. When fluid pressure rises inside the eye, damage to the optic nerve takes place in glaucoma patients.

Previously, researchers recognized that only the headstand position was able to increase IOP incidence. Now, the new study had glaucoma patients and healthy subjects with no eye disease perform inverted yoga positions, namely standing forward bend, downward facing dog, bend and legs up the wall.

The team discovered that both groups exhibited a rise in intraocular pressure in the four yoga positions. The highest pressure increase occurred during the downward facing dog position.

In most cases, the pressure remained slightly elevated even when the subjects returned to a seated pose and after waiting for 10 minutes.

Need For Further Research

Study author Jessica Jasien said that there was no dramatic difference in pressure between the glaucoma and non-glaucoma groups, additional research with a larger sample and longer duration of implementing the inverted positions is warranted.

"[G]laucoma patients should share with their yoga instructors their disease to allow for modifications during the practice of yoga,” she added.

The study was limited by the small sample size, which the authors noted could likely explain why there was no statistically significant gap between the two groups in their results. Other limitations include the short duration of poses as well as the lack of blood pressure measurements.

Yoga has been around for over 5,000 years, a total mind-body workout with over 1,000 different forms ranging from slow-paced to intense.

While recommended even for those with medical conditions, patients of high blood pressure, diabetes, or heart disease are advised to seek recommendations from their doctors and to avoid certain postures, including upside-down ones or positions demanding more balance than the practitioner currently has.

Photo : Taro Taylor | Flickr

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