Downward Dog for Your Back

Yoga for chronic lower back pain is effective treatment

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

(RxWiki News) While many people find that drugs can relieve their back pain, medical treatment is not always the best option. Sometimes some simple physical activity can do the trick.

Yoga is often a more effective treatment for lower back pain than the usual care, which commonly includes painkiller drugs.

"Yoga may relieve your lower back pain."

Past studies have shown that yoga may be an effective way to treat chronic back pain. David J. Torgerson, M.Sc., Ph.D., from the University of York, and his fellow researchers set out to see if yoga is a good treatment, and if it works better than the standard treatments.

According to Diane Shiao, PT, MSPT, DPT, "Any form of exercise with a focus on balance training and core strengthening is generally a good way in maintaining a healthy back. Yoga can be beneficial in reducing low back pain for people who are more in need of stretching and mindful relaxation of the body."

Lower back pain is one of the main reasons people visit a chiropractor. It is also one of the most common reasons people miss work. Each year, Americans spend an estimated $50 billion, and it is likely costs are even higher.

For the study, 156 patients took yoga classes for 12 months while 157 patients were treated with the usual care for back pain.

The researchers found that patients who did yoga had reduced disability, compared to those who received standard care. In other words, yoga treatment led to better back function.

Using the Roland-Morris Disability Questionnaire (a measure of disability), Dr. Torgerson and colleagues saw that the yoga group had better back function three, six, and 12 months after starting classes. At three months, the Roland-Morris score was 2.17 points lower than the usual care group. At six months it was 1.48 points lower, and at 12 months it was 1.57 points lower.

The amount of back pain was the same for both groups.

"It is best to consult a physician if the type of back pain is moderate to severe, burning, radiating, causing numbness and tingling, or hindering daily function," Shiao, who did not take part in the study, recommends.

Talking to a doctor is important, as one can do more damage than good if exercises are done incorrectly.

"Self prescribing a yoga class can help with low back pain if the symptoms are mild and related to a muscle tension, poor posture, stress, and a sedentary lifestyle," says Shiao. "People with an underlying back pathology can easily hurt their backs during exercise if the exercise is not suitable for their condition. Seeing a physical therapist with a background in yoga is a good idea for back patients who are interested in introducing yoga to their back school exercise program."

Shiao concludes, "The last thing anyone wants to do is to hurt themselves while trying to help themselves. Therefore, starting yoga at the beginner level is the best way to go."

The study by Dr. Torgerson and colleagues - which was supported by Arthritis Research UK - is published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
November 3, 2011
Last Updated:
November 7, 2011