Gentle yoga can help relieve lower back pain

Physical therapy is the most common non-drug treatment for chronic low back pain prescribed by doctors, and it’s often at least partly covered by health insurance. Every four of five people in the United Kingdom suffer from lower back pain.

Back pain which affects many people globally can now find relief with the help of some yoga poses.

More than 300 people with low back pain from low-income, racially diverse neighborhoods were included in the study. The groups in physical therapy and yoga both used less pain medication than the control group. Either yoga classes every week for three months, 15 visits with a physical therapist over three months, or education (which involved getting a back pain self-help book and mailed newsletters).

After three months, the participants in the yoga classes group attended more yoga sessions or practiced at home for the next nine months, while the physical therapy group did the same with physical therapy.

Almost half of the yoga participants experienced a “clinically meaningful” improvement in their levels of pain and disability, which means it was enough to make a notable difference in the function of their everyday lives. “The reality is, yoga was not a panacea for most of these patients”.

The once-a-week yoga classes in the study were designed specifically for back-pain patients, the authors note, so the results may not apply to all types of yoga or all kinds of classes. By the time it had wrapped up, the number of yoga and physical therapy participants still on medication was reduced to about 50 percent. Back pain is one of the major cause of disability. Some took yoga classes designed for back pain once a week. Investigators performed a 40-week maintenance phase in which they compared yoga drop-in classes to home practice and PT booster sessions to home practice. Previous studies have also indicated that regular sessions of yoga significantly lowered the risk of high blood pressure and cardio vascular diseases.

In an accompanying editorial, Dr. Stefan Kertesz from the University of Alabama at Birmingham and Dr. Douglas Chang from the University of California, San Diego wrote that treating lower back pain is a complicated task and that the findings of the study showed only modest improvements. And while both options are smart (and you should always check in with your doctor to weigh in on your situation), new studies indicate that the solution to your pesky pain may actually be getting active.

Disclosures: Saper reports grants from the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health of the NIH during conduction of this study.