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Yoga positions increase IOP


Glaucoma sufferers need to exercise great care while performing certain yoga positions or other activities that involve head-down postures due to their tendency to increase pressure within the eye.

Glaucoma is a leading cause of irreversible blindness and is frequently called the sneak thief of sight due to the difficulty of detecting it early. Elevated intraocular pressure (IOP) can damage the optic nerve causing moderate to severe vision loss. It is the most common known risk factor for glaucoma.

Importantly, it is the only modifiable risk factor for which treatment can slow or prevent the progression of glaucoma.

A just-released study by the New York Eye and Ear Infirmary of Mount Sinai built on previous research that studied just the headstand yoga position and found it doubled IOP. The new study had healthy participants with no eye-related disease and glaucoma patients perform a series of inverted yoga positions, including downward facing dog, standing forward bend, the plow, and legs up the wall. IOP was measured five times in each group: while seated, immediately assuming the pose, two minutes while holding the pose, immediately after returning to the seated position, and 10 minutes after resting in a seated position.

Both normal and glaucoma study participants showed a rise in IOP in all four yoga positions, with the greatest increase of pressure occurring during downward facing dog. When the measurements were taken after the participants returned to a seated position and again after waiting ten minutes, the pressure in most cases remained slightly elevated from the baseline.

Doctors involved in the study say further research is needed but urge people to heed the warning about avoiding risky positions that increase eye pressure. They encourage physical exercise as part of active and healthy lifestyles but warn glaucoma patients, in particular, about certain activities such as lifting heavy weights and doing push-ups as risky for damaging the optic nerve.

Full details are in the journal PLOS ONE.

Last updated: November 28, 2018

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