Health Care Costs Cut With Yoga

Yoga for low back pain is cost effective and reduces time off work

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

(RxWiki News) Many traditional treatments for chronic pain fail to bring significant relief, leaving patients encouraged to seek out alternative therapies like yoga. Studies show that yoga is affective for alleviating low back pain, but is it cost effective as well?

The UK's largest study to date regarding the benefits of yoga evaluated its cost effectiveness when used to complement general practitioner (GP) care for chronic low back pain.

The randomized controlled trial showed that the addition of yoga to a conventional treatment program is likely to reduce the cost of treatment and days taken off work.

"Yoga works - speak with an instructor."

The study included 313 patients from 39 general practices in five different areas of England. The participants were aged 18 to 65 and had consulted with their doctor regarding low back pain in the past year and a half.

Of the 313 participants, 156 received usual care procedures complemented with yoga and 157 only received GP care.

The yoga participants were enrolled in a 12-week progressive course delivered once a week for 75 minutes by an experienced yoga teacher. In addition to the 12-week course and GP care, the yoga participants also received a relaxation CD, a student yoga manual, a yoga mat and a copy of an educational booklet for improving back pain.

The control group received the educational booklet and a yoga class upon completion of the study in addition to GP care.

The participants were encouraged to practice at home for 30 minutes a day or two times a week with the addition of the relaxation CD.

Questionnaires were administered at the beginning of the study and again after three, six and 12 months to assess back function. The results showed that the yoga was improving conditions by the first follow up at three months.

An economic evaluation of the treatments was made by chief investigator David J. Torgerson, PhD, of the University of York, and his team.

The researchers concluded that if the cost per patient for the 12-week program was kept under £300 (about $475), there was a 70 percent chance of the program being cost effective.

From a societal perspective, those taking part in the yoga program took on average only four days off of work due to the back pain. Those in the control group who only received GP care took approximately 12 days off of work because of the back pain.

This time off represents £374 for a yoga group participant and £1202 for a control group participant, about $593 and $1906 respectively.

There are several limitations to this study.

The study did not measure the impact of the program after one year’s time. Sixty percent of the yoga participants continued to practice at home after one year and may have continued to improve after the end of the study.

The long-term impact of practicing yoga on lower back pain requires further investigation.

In addition, medication costs were not included in this study. The cost effectiveness when considering reduced medication cost may actually be higher than reported.

Another cost that was not considered was travel to and from the class on behalf of the participant, although it is expected to be small.

"Yoga is a wonderful exercise for people with low back pain if it is gentle and taught with a slow progression," says Diane Shiao, PT, MSPT, DPT of Revive Physical Therapy and Wellness in Edison, New Jersey.

"Certain postures may be too taxing for specific conditions and may aggravate symptoms," warns Dr. Shiao. "When in doubt, consult a physician or physical therapist who is familiar with yoga rehabilitation."

The study was published in the August edition of Spine magazine.

The study was funded by Arthritis Research UK and sponsored by The University of York.

Some authors receive benefits for personal or professional use from an undisclosed commercial party related to the subject of this study.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
August 24, 2012
Last Updated:
August 27, 2012