Yoga may improve back function more than regular care

Back pain suffers, strike a pose: A study finds that a regular yoga program may improve back function more than standard care.

The study, released Monday in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine, compared a 12-week yoga program to usual care for people suffering from chronic or recurring low back pain. Men and women were randomly assigned to a yoga program (156 people) consisting of 12 classes plus usual care, or 12 weeks of just usual care (157 people).

Those in the yoga program, which was geared to beginners and people with lower back pain, included poses and posture, breath control, relaxation techniques and mental focus. The program’s goals were to improve mobility, strength and posture, and decrease pain. Participants were encouraged to continue the practice at home in between sessions.

The study subjects were given questionnaires about functioning with back pain at the beginning of the study and at three, six and 12 months. After three months those in the yoga group had better back function and were able to do 30% more activities on average compared with the usual care group. Although improved function was most evident at the three-month mark, progress was still seen at 12 months.

Although the yoga group found that pain levels and overall health were about the same throughout the study and follow-up period, they reported that their confidence in doing normal activities in spite of having pain increased more than the usual care group at three and six months.


“While previous studies have focused on the short-term benefits of yoga, we also wanted to see the long-term effects and measured improvements three, six and 12 months after entry into the study,” said David Torgerson of the University of York in England in a news release. “Our results showed that yoga can provide both short- and long-term benefits to those suffering from chronic or recurrent back pain, without any serious side-effects.”

Added Alan Silman of Arthritis Research UK (the group that funded the research), “This extremely common condition cannot be managed with painkillers alone and there is an urgent need to have non-drug therapies that sufferers can utilise in their own home.”