Does Yoga Eliminate Back Pain?
Chronic low back pain is a common complaint of adults around the world. People will try anything from physical therapy to inversion tables and even endless mounds of pharmaceutical drugs to provide some modicum of relief from the incessant, unbearable pain emanating from their low back.
But, a new study indicates that the true cure to low back pain might be one of the oldest forms of exercise in the world – Yoga.
New research published in the Annals of Internal Medicine reports that a yoga protocol developed by a team of researchers from Boston Medical Center may be just as effective at treating back pain as other commonly prescribed treatment methods, including physical therapy. 
The Study – Yoga for Back Pain?
Researchers petitioned a total of 320 low-income adults from the Boston area, all suffering from chronic low back pain, to participate in the one year study. The participants were then divided into one of three groups:
One weekly yoga class for 12 weeks followed by 40 weeks of “drop in classes” or at home practice.
Physical Therapy (PT) Group
15 prescribed PT sessions followed up by either PT “booster sessions” or at-home practice.
Educational Book / Newsletters
This group received a back pain self-help book and mailed newsletters on how to deal with chronic low back pain.
Test subjects answered a 23-point questionnaire regarding their levels of back pain and activity restrictions at the beginning of the trial, and again at the 12 week mark. Additionally, researchers also monitored the subjects’ use of painkillers during the study, satisfaction with their treatment plan, and overall quality of life.
At the beginning of the study, roughly 70% of participants were using some form of painkiller to deal with back pain; however, at the end of the three months, the number of yoga and PT subjects still relying on pain meds dropped to approximately 50%, while there was no significant decline in painkiller use by the “education” group.
Rob Saper, lead researcher and Director of Integrative Medicine at Boston Medical Center, said:
“PT is the most common referral that physicians make for patients with back pain. It’s accepted, it’s reimbursed, and it’s offered in most hospitals…maybe yoga should be considered as a potential therapy that can be more widely disseminated and covered [by insurance].”
Yoga For Back Pain Relief
While the exact sequence wasn’t detailed in the full study, the authors did describe the overall nature of each class:
“Each class began with relaxation and meditation exercises, yoga breathing, and yoga philosophy. It continued with yoga poses and concluded with relaxation. Pose variations and aids (such as chair, strap, and blocks) accommodated various abilities. Thirty minutes of daily home practice, facilitated by a DVD, a manual, and take-home yoga supplies, was strongly encouraged.” 
Participants were guided through gentle poses, including cat-cow, triangle pose and child’s pose, but more difficult poses, such as inversions, were avoided during the course of the trial.
So, how do YOU deal with back pain? Have you tried pain meds or PT with little to no long term success? Would you consider giving yoga a shot?
Leave a comment below with your thoughts!
1) Saper RB, Lemaster C, Delitto A, Sherman KJ, Herman PM, Sadikova E, et al. Yoga, Physical Therapy, or Education for Chronic Low Back Pain: A Randomized Noninferiority Trial. Ann Intern Med. [Epub ahead of print 20 June 2017] doi: 10.7326/M16-2579