Medical treatment of low back pain costs $34 billion a year in the US – more than any other reimbursement category.
People with chronic low-back problems who do yoga also do better at overcoming pain and depression than people treated conventionally for back pain, a West Virginia University study funded by the National Institutes of Health shows.
The three-year, $400,000 study, published in the September issue of the journal Spine,(1) found that by comparison with a control group who received standard medical therapy, the group which did yoga postures generally achieved:
• Lifted mood (less depression)
• Less pain
• Improved function (less functional disability)
• And a greater reduction in pain medication usage.
“These were statistically significant and clinically important changes that were maintained six months after the intervention,” said Kimberly Williams, PhD, research assistant professor in the WVU Department of Community Medicine.
The 90 study subjects, who experienced mild to moderate functional disability, were randomly assigned to the yoga group or the group that received conventional medical therapy. Yoga participants took 90-minute classes twice a week for 24 weeks, doing postures targeted to relieve chronic low-back pain. Follow-up continued for six months after the end of classes or therapy.
“Proponents of yoga have long described its benefits in reducing back pain, but not everybody was convinced. This is a much bigger, much more rigorous evaluation than had been done before,” Williams said.
The classes were taught by certified Iyengar yoga instructors. A popular form of yoga in the US and UK, Iyengar yoga emphasizes postures that encourage strength, flexibility and balance. It focuses on building awareness of correct body alignment and muscle position and feedback, and is considered particularly useful in physical therapy because it "assists in the manipulation of inflexible or injured areas.”
1. Article cited: "Evaluation of the Effectiveness and Efficacy of Iyengar Yoga Therapy on Chronic Low Back Pain,” Williams K, et al. Spine, Sep 2009.
Source: West Virginia University Health Sciences Center news release, Sep 1, 2009