Yoga May Help Low Back Pain. Mental Effects? Not So Much
By JENNIFER CORBETT DOOREN
Low back pain sufferers benefitted from taking yoga or stretching classes, a new study found.
A study believed to be the largest of
its kind suggests that the physical aspects of yoga are effective at
relieving low back pain, but it didn't find any evidence that yoga
provided broader mental benefits.
The study, funded by the National Institutes of Health's National
Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, was published online
Monday in the Archives of Internal Medicine. It was lead by researchers
at Seattle's Group Health Research Institute.
Smaller studies in the past have suggested
that yoga, which involves stretching exercises along with a mental
component of deep breathing and other relaxation techniques, was
moderately effective at easing symptoms of chronic lower back pain.
It was thought the combination of stretching and relaxation relieved back pain, according to previous studies.
But the current study found both yoga and stretching were equally as
effective, suggesting the benefits of yoga are attributable to the
physical benefits of stretching and not to its mental components, said
the study's lead author, Karen J. Sherman, senior investigator at Group
Health Research Institute.
It involved 228 adults with chronic, low back pain that didn't have a
specific cause such as a spinal disc problem. They were divided into
three groups to compare two types of classes with patients using a
self-care book that provided instruction on exercises and stretches to
help treat lower pain.
The people who took classes may have been more likely to complete the
exercises. More than 80% of the participants in the self-care group
reported reading some of the book and doing some exercises, but time
spent on the exercises was typically less than the class groups. "They
need that class format to get started," Ms. Sherman said.
About 50% of patients in the yoga or stretching classes reported
feeling much better or completely better in relation to their back pain
and function compared to about 20% of patients in the self-care group,
said Ms. Sherman.
Twice as many patients in the yoga and stretching groups reported
decreased medication use during the study compared to the self-care
About 90 patients each were randomly assigned to attend 75-minute
weekly yoga classes or weekly stretching classes for 12 weeks. The
people who attended the classes were also instructed to practice for 20
minutes a day at home in between classes.
Another group involved 45 patients who were given a 200-page book
with advice on exercising, lifestyle modifications and managing
The type of yoga used in the study was viniyoga, a style of hatha
yoga, that adapts exercises for each person's physical condition. The
stretching classes involved 15 stretches targeting the lower back and
legs were which held for a full minute repeated for a total of 52
minutes of stretching.
The study measured changes in back pain and functional status at the
beginning of the study and at six weeks, 12 weeks and six months.
Jennifer Corbett-Dooren at email@example.com