What If I Told You Yoga Is an Alternative Treatment for Back Pain, but Keep It Modest, With These Poses


    If you’re frustrated taking drugs for your lower back pain, yoga may be a good option to go with.

    Modern science has found out that a yoga class designed specifically for back pain can be as safe and effective as physiotherapy in reducing pain.

    The yoga protocol was brought by researchers at Boston Medical Center with input from yoga instructors, doctors and physiotherapists.

    During the class, trained instructors guide participants through easy poses, including cat-cow, triangle pose and child’s pose. Easy relaxation methods are inclusive in the training session as well. More complex poses, which includes inversions, are avoided.

    guidebook that shows out the poses taught during the class is freely available, as is a teacher training manual.

    The findings, published Monday in the Annals of Internal Medicine, are in line with new guidelines for curing back pain from the American College of Physicians. The group advice that people having back pain should not consider the intake of pain medicines if possible, and instead go for alternatives such as tai chi, yoga and massage. As we’ve reported, those guidelines are aimed at people with run-of-the-mill back pain, rather than pain due to an injury or other diagnosed problem.

    Who was in the study? Researchers employed 320 racially diverse, predominantly low-income participants in the Boston area, all of whom had severing low back pain. The study lasted for twelve months.

    What did participants in the study do?

    Participants were divided into three groups. One group was assigned to a weekly yoga class for three months. Another group was assigned 15 physical therapy (PT) visits. The third group got an educational book and newsletters. For the rest of the year — roughly 40 weeks — participants in the yoga group were assigned to either drop-in classes or home practice. The PT group was assigned to either “PT booster sessions” or home practice.

    The skinny: Researchers assessed changes in pain and function with the help of a 23-point questionnaire. The participants in the yoga and physical therapy groups had about the same amount of improvement in pain and functioning over time.

    When the study began, about 70 percent of the patients were administering some form of pain medication. At the end of three months, when the yoga classes were wrapping up, the percentage of yoga and PT participants still taking pain medication had dropped to about 50 percent. By comparison, the use of pain medication did not decline among participants in the education group.

    “It’s a clear reduction,” according to author Rob Saper, director of integrative medicine at Boston Medical Center.

    “It is not advisable that people just go to any yoga class,” Saper told us. He pointed out that their research has helped brought down poses and relaxation techniques that are helpful and safe.

    Saper says he decided to compare the distinction between yoga and physiotherapy because “PT is the most common referral that doctors make for patients with back pain. It’s accepted, it’s reimbursed, and it’s offered in most hospitals.”

    Saper says if research shows that yoga can be as effective, “maybe yoga should be considered as a considerable therapy that can be more widely disseminated and covered [by insurance].”

    An editorial published alongside the study reveals that treating low back pain is complicated and improvements documented in the study were on the modest.

    “Any single treatment approach is unlikely to prove helpful to all or even most patients,” writes Stefan Kertesz of the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Medicine and his co-author, of University of California, San Diego. Nevertheless, as this new study reveals, “yoga offers some persons enormous benefits with minimal risk,” they conclude.


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