December 2011

Yoga or Stretching Eases Low Back Pain

Weekly classes of yoga or intensive stretching can reduce low back pain and improve back movement, a new study shows. Both types of classes were equally effective, and their benefits lasted for months after the classes ended.

Low back pain is the most common cause of job-related disability and a leading reason for missed work. Many treatments exist, but none have proven highly effective against long-lasting back pain.

Small studies have hinted that yoga might help. Yoga often combines physical postures, breathing techniques and relaxation. Some experts suspected that yoga’s mind-body focus might give it an edge over other exercise treatments for back pain.

To investigate, NIH-funded scientists randomly divided over 200 people with low back pain into 3 groups. One had weekly classes of yoga for 3 months. Another had classes of intensive stretching. The third group received a self-care book that suggested exercises and lifestyle changes to reduce back pain.

After 3 months, the yoga group had less pain and more back movement than the self-care group. The yoga group remained better even at 6 months. However, stretching was just as effective as yoga.

“We expected back pain to ease more with yoga than with stretching, so our findings surprised us,” says Dr. Karen J. Sherman of the Group Health Research Institute in Seattle. “Our results suggest that both yoga and stretching can be good, safe options for people who are willing to try physical activity to relieve their moderate low back pain.”