Yoga for Lower Back Pain? It Depends

Using yoga for lower back pain relief may be a case of trial-and-error.

Yoga classes have never been more popular in the United States. Could they be useful for people with lower back pain? The back ailment impacts about 80% of adults at some point during their lives, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that exercise therapy can reduce pain and improve function in people with low back pain. The CDC guidelines even suggest yoga as an effective option.

A research team has put that recommendation to the test.

Susan Wieland, MPH, PhD, of the University of Maryland School of Medicine and colleagues gathered results from 12 randomized trials of yoga’s potential to relieve pain. These trials were conducted in the US, the United Kingdom, and India. The participants consisted of 1,080 men and women with chronic non-specific back pain and an average age between 34 and 48 years.

“The yoga exercises practiced in the studies were developed for low back pain, but people should also remember that in each of the studies we reviewed, the yoga classes were led by experienced practitioners,” Wieland said in a news release.

In five studies where yoga with back-focused exercises were compared with no exercise at all, it was concluded that yoga might improve function and reduce lower back pain symptoms by a small amount. Not much more convincing evidence was found after three and six months of yoga exercises. After those amounts of time, there were some small improvements in function and pain as well.

Researchers were unable to draw firm conclusions on the long-term effects of yoga, since few studies followed up past one year.

“At the moment we only have very low-quality evidence for the effects of yoga before six months as a type of exercise for helping people with chronic lower back pain,” Wieland continued.

Study participants who engaged in the exercises were more likely to experience side effects than those in the control group. Around 5% of patients reported an increase in back pain; however, this rate is consistent with other back-focused exercise.

So should someone with lower back pain try yoga? This may be a case of trial-and-error.

The news release was provided by Cochrane Library, which is also where the study, “Yoga treatment for chronic non-specific low back pain,” was published.

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