Low Back Pain? Depressed? Special Yoga Helps More than Standard Medical Treatment, NIH-Funded Project Finds

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

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8 thoughts on “Low Back Pain? Depressed? Special Yoga Helps More than Standard Medical Treatment, NIH-Funded Project Finds”

  1. ladykew says:

    I believe this would work for me. I’ve had low back pain for 30 years, and none of the Standard Medical Treatments have helped for more than approximately 30 minutes at a time.

    I bought a machine just recently that gently stretches the muhscles in the back and lower back. I can tell a difference in just 3 weeks of using it only once a day.

    Therefore, I believe Special Yoga would be wonderful for the low back pain, and you would get much more than just the one stretch.

    I’m anxious to find out where I can find a class in this close to my home. I believe it would be a back saver for me. I need help now… this sounds like the best option for me.

    Please let me know how I could find this Special Yoga. I want to sign up now !


  2. ProHealthFibromyalgia says:

    After years of ‘Western’ medicine and physical therapy, Yoga therapy saved me. I’m 56 years old, have multiple health issues, and doctors told me I’d be on pain medicine for the rest of my life. NOT!! Yoga therapy (private and group sessions) with a physical therapist, some diet change (more organic), and prayer saved me. My therapist has written many yoga therapy manuals and she educates medical professionals. Unfortunately (for many of us), most physical therapists are not trained in these therapy methods. If you’re a medical professional, please check out http://www.ProYogaTherapy.com. For others, enter that site then click on Find a Professional Yoga Therapist at the top right. If no instructors trained by PYTS are near you, http://www.YogaFinder.com might help find a yoga class. Since you’re reading this ProHealth page, I’d recommend starting with a Restorative Yoga class. I did that for 3 years prior to advancing to Yoga I. Wishing you well! 🙂

  3. ProHealthFibromyalgia says:

    I just looked up the study done by my Yoga Physical Therapist. My issues and symptons were much like the person in this study. And… oh my … the study is here on ProHealth.
    Ginger Wood (author of this study) and Ginger Garner (www.ProYogaTherapy.com in my prevous message) are the same person. 🙂

  4. realtorkoko says:

    How do I find a iyengar yoga specialist in Northern VA?
    Thank you

    1. YogaRob says:

      Google “Iyengar Yoga” and your city or state.
      Hope that helps.

  5. kschrader77 says:

    Check out both the Unity Woods Studio or Sun and Moon. I currently practice at Unity Woods in Ballston (Arlington) but Sun & Moon has a studio in Fairfax and ARlington. Unity Woods is fabulous – very well credentialed instructors. You can try one class for free too.

  6. JazzieS says:

    Because I am basically homebound, I purchased a ‘yoga sculpt’ video to practice at home.

    I’ve hooked ever since. I totally agree with the study and it helped to ease some pain for me. In fact, often when I became too fatique to do anything, I’ll force myself to yoga me for at least 10 minute…my muscle craves it.

    The video works for me, ‘cuz I can do it at my own space.

  7. realtorkoko says:

    Thanks to those who offered help in finding Iyengar Yoga in NVA. I think I’ll try Unity Woods. I’ll let you know how it goes.

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