Health & Diet

Yoga Can Reduce Back Pain

By Lola Augustine Brown                                        Photo: iStock/jacoblund.

Yoga is as effective as physical therapy in treating chronic low back pain, according to new research findings published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

American researchers seeking to test claims that yoga could improve function and reduce pain as well as physical therapy conducted a randomized trial involving 320 low income, ethnically diverse people aged 18–64 from the Boston area, all of whom suffered with moderate and persistent lower back pain. A third of the participants took a series of 12 weekly yoga classes designed for people with back pain, another third did 15 sessions of physical therapy, and those in the last group were provided with a book and regular newsletters on pain management. All were followed for an additional 40 weeks.

After 12 weeks, about half of both those who did the yoga exercises and those who received physical therapy saw improvements in function and pain, and both groups were less likely than the education-support group to need pain medication; 40 weeks later, improvements in both function and pain in both groups had been maintained.

Primary funding for the study came from the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health of the (US) National Institutes of Health.

This will be welcome news to many: a yoga class is a lot cheaper than a physical therapy session. Even the fanciest yoga studio is unlikely to charge more than $20 a class, and many recreation centres and gyms offer classes as part of their membership.

You can find yoga classes everywhere these days, catering to varying levels of fitness and ability. You can even do chair yoga if getting down to the floor is impossible. Plus, joining a yoga class can be fun, and you can do it with friends or just enjoy meeting new people at classes.

But don’t join just any class—study participants were doing gentle, beginner-level yoga—and check with your doctor before starting.