Yoga For Chronic Low Back Pain

“I had thought my life would never be the same again after my back condition was diagnosed, but I cannot say how much this has helped.  I have a new lease on life and have no back pain now.”   trial participant testimonial

In my mailbox last week was the latest edition of Annals of Internal Medicine, the premier publication of the American College of Physicians, an organization for internists of which I am a member. Glancing at the table of contents on the outer cover, I was thrilled to see the leading article was one about Yoga, Yoga for Chronic Low Back Pain. A Randomized Trial. (you can view it online here)

After a chilly fall walk down my long country lane back to the house, I settled into a comfy chair to warm up and read the latest report.

In the United Kingdom, a group of researchers at the University of York and the University of Manchester teamed up with some British Wheel and Iyengar Yoga teachers to study 313 patients with chronic or recurrent low back pain. At several centers across England, Yoga teachers taught a program of 12 classes, each 75-minutes in length. During the one class each week, participants were instructed on a philosophical theme (like steadiness) before beginning a series of calming, standing, chair-seated, lying, and relaxation postures.

Asanas incorporated into the program were held for 10 to 15 seconds and included:

Tadasana (Mountain Pose)

Modified Ardha Matsyandrasana (Half Lord of the Fishes)

Makrasana (Crocodile)

Bhujangasana (Cobra)

Pavana muktasana with both knees to chest (Wind Releasing)

Supta bhadrasana (Reclining Bound Angle)

Shalabhasana (Locust)

Savasana for 5 – 20 minutes (Corpse)

Of course, a Yoga class wouldnt be Yoga without addressing the mind as well as the body, and participants were encouraged to increase positivity and self confidence in daily life. Mental focusing and awareness were required.

This carefully constructed program for low back pain included encouragement and instructional tools for participants to continue at home. A manual with four home sequences and a relaxation CD were provided, and they were given the goal of practicing twice per week forever.

The study findings?

The Yoga group had better back function at the end of the 12 weeks than a control group receiving usual care, and the improvement remained a year after the program began. There was no significant change in subjective reports of pain between the two groups. Four subjects in the Yoga group reported increased pain compared to none in the control group. None of the pain was deemed medically serious.

Pain scores remained unchanged according to statistical analysis, and the Yoga group was better able to function and to deal with daily life than the group who received no Yoga training. According to the authors, Yoga seems to be a safe and effective activity that clinicians could consider recommending for patients with a history of low back pain.