Back Pain? Stretch It Out!

Yoga and stretching for chronic low back pain

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Need to find relief for the constant pain in your lower back? A new study recommends that you sign up for a stretching or yoga class. After a few weeks, you'll feel the difference.

Because chronic low back pain is such a common problem, researchers are looking to identify low-cost and effective treatments for patients. This study compared yoga and stretching classes to reading a self-care book on pain management.

It found that both yoga and stretching classes were equally more effective than relying on the self-care book.

"Try a yoga or stretching class."

The study authors were interested in yoga because previous trials had shown promise for treatment in lower back pain. With its focus on mindfulness and discipline, they hypothesized that it may have beneficial effects on health that go beyond pain.

Led by Karen J. Sherman, Ph.D., M.P.H., from Group Health Research Institute, Seattle, they designed a study to test whether yoga is in fact better than conventional stretching or a self-care book. A total of 228 adults with lower back pain participated in the study.

The yoga and stretching groups took 12 weekly classes. Interviewers checked in with them at six, 12, and 26 weeks to collect data on lower back function and how much the pain bothered the patients.

Each group experienced better back function as time went on. Compared to the self-care book group, the group of yoga practicioners reported superior function at 12 and 26 weeks, while the stretching group reported improvement starting at six weeks.

But it turned out that there was no significant difference between yoga's body-mind approach and the conventional, body-focused stretching, and oga was not superior to conventional stretching exercises at any time point.

The researchers concluded that exercising involving stretching has “moderate” benefits in people with moderate low back pain. They wrote that benefits from yoga and stretching classes could last several months.

In a related commentary, Dr. Timothy S. Carey recommended that insurance companies and other medical payers provide partial financial support for proven low-cost treatments like yoga and stretching.

The study was published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, in late October 2011.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
October 25, 2011
Last Updated:
October 25, 2011