Yoga could reduce symptoms of lower back pain

yoga back pain

Yoga may reduce the symptoms of chronic lower back pain in the short term, a new study has found.

A review of 12 trials of 1,080 people with long-term lower back pain found some evidence to suggest that yoga may help improve back function and potentially relieve pain.

Back-specific yoga

The trials compared practising yoga in a class setting to other forms of back-focused exercise, or to doing no exercise at all. The trials were from the US, India and the UK, and involved participants aged between 34 and 48 years old who had long-term (lasting at least three months) lower back pain that wasn’t explained by a specific injury or disease.

Those undergoing a yoga course had taken part in classes at least once a week that were specifically designed for back conditions, and were with qualified yoga teachers.

Outcomes analysed by this study included back mobility, pain, quality of life, clinical improvement and adverse events. All outcomes were self-reported by trial participants.

The results of this study, a Cochrane review, have been published in the BMJ and the Cochrane Library.

Some evidence of improvement

There was some evidence that people doing yoga saw improvement in back-related function at three to six months, compared with those doing no back-related exercise. Yoga was also found to be slightly more effective at controlling pain, although the difference was not significant.  

It was uncertain from the review whether there was any difference between yoga and other exercises for back-related function or pain, or whether yoga added to other exercise was more effective than other exercise alone.

Compared with those not doing any exercise, more people found their symptoms increased after doing yoga. However, the researchers said that this risk was likely to be similar for any form of exercise with back pain. There were no serious side effects found to doing yoga.

Treatment options

Non-specific (not related to a specific injury or disease) lower back pain is a common condition that is usually treated with self-care and non-prescription medicine. Exercise therapy may also be recommended, which in some instances can include yoga.

Lead author Susan Wieland, from the University of Maryland School of Medicine, said: “Our findings suggest that yoga exercise may lead to reducing the symptoms of lower back pain by a small amount, but the results have come from studies with a short follow up.

“The yoga exercises practised in the studies were developed for lower back pain, and people should also remember that in each of the studies we reviewed, the yoga classes were led by experienced practitioners.

“The findings of this review will help people make more informed choices about their future treatment options.”

The trials had follow-up periods of 12 months or less, so the authors have recommended that larger studies that track results for a longer length of time are needed to explore the long-term impact of yoga on lower back pain.


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