Yoga just as good for back pain as physical therapy

Researchers found yoga was as safe and effective as physical therapy for restoring function and relieving pain in patients with chronic lower back pain

The yoga protocol includes gentle poses and avoids more hard ones. The study from Tufts University followed people with mild to moderate lower back pain.

Yoga is just as safe and effective at helping lower back pain than physical therapy, a new study has found.

"In light of the complex factors affecting both diagnosis and outcomes in chronic [lower back pain], any single treatment is unlikely to prove helpful to all or even most patients", said an accompanying editorial written by University of California, San Diego doctor and researcher Douglas G. Chang, and Stefan G. Kertesz, a doctor and researcher with Birmingham Veterans Affairs Medical Center and the University of Alabama.

During the class, trained instructors guide participants through gentle poses, including cat-cow, triangle pose and child's pose.

The researchers published their results in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine on Monday. One group took part in a 12-week yoga program designed for people with low back pain. As we've reported, those guidelines are aimed at people with run-of-the-mill back pain, rather than pain due to an injury or other diagnosed problem. Researchers recruited 320 racially-diverse, predominantly low-income participants in the Boston area, all of whom had chronic low back pain. Studies have revealed that practicing yoga for at least 30 minutes once a week for four years helps people avoid weight gain and stay in tune with their bodies.

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Judith Zaborowski, who has significant arthritis in her spine, takes yoga. The first group underwent 12 weeks of physical therapy, including 15 sessions that lasted an hour each. People in the third group received a book with comprehensive information about low back pain and follow-up information every few weeks.

To track participants function and pain during the study, the researchers surveyed them at six, 12, 26, 40 and 52 weeks using the Roland Morris Disability Questionnaire (RMDQ). Robert Saper, Integrative Medicine Director at Boston Medical Center found that performing yoga weekly helped people to manage pain nearly as much as physical therapy allowing people to resume normal active lives. Almost 66 percent of the subjects also took pain medication. At the end of three months, when the yoga classes were wrapping up, the percentage of yoga and PT participants still taking pain medication had dropped to about 50 percent. "Perhaps most importantly reducing pain medication use".

Dr. Robert Saper at Boston Medical Center is one of the authors.

"Nevertheless, as Saper and colleagues have shown, yoga offers some persons tangible benefit without much risk", they write.

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