Yoga and disc degenerative disease in cervical and lumbar spine: An MR imaging-based case control study – Source: European Spine Journal, Mar 2011

[Note: ‘Degenerative disc disease’ refers to the condition of the ‘shock-absorbing’ discs between the vertebrae, not to a specific ‘disease’. See brief video.]

The objective of the current study was to find out whether yoga practice was beneficial to the spine by comparing degenerative disc disease in the spines of long-time yoga practitioners and non-yoga practicing controls, using an objective measurement tool, magnetic resonance imaging.

This matched case-control study comprised 18 yoga instructors with teaching experience of more than 10 years and 18 non-yoga practicing asymptomatic [no symptoms] individuals randomly selected from a health checkup database. [Yoga involves poses & movements for muscle stretching, strengthening, flexibility and balance.]

A validated grading scale was used to grade the condition of cervical and lumbar discs seen in magnetic resonance imaging of the spine, and the resulting data analyzed statistically. [Note: the spine includes 23 ‘shock-absorbing’ discs between the vertebrae; 5 lumbar (lower back), 12 thoracic (middle back), and 6 cervical (neck region).]

The mean number of years of yoga practice for the yoga group was 12.9 plus or minus 7.5.

• The overall (cervical + lumbar) disc scores of the yoga group were significantly lower (indicating less degenerative disc disease) than those of the control group (P < 0.001). [Probability of this difference resulting by chance less than 1 in 1,000.]

• The scores for the cervical vertebral discs of the yoga group were also significantly lower than those of the control group (P < 0.001),

• While the lower scores for the yoga group in the lumbar group approached, but did not reach, statistical significance (P = 0.055).

• The scores for individual discs of yoga practitioners showed significantly less degenerative disease at three disc levels, [cervical] C3/C4, [lumbar] L2/L3, and [lumbar] L3/L4 (P < 0.05).

Magnetic resonance imaging showed that the group of long-term practitioners of yoga studied had significantly less degenerative disc disease than a matched control group.

Source: European Spine Journal, Mar  2011;20(3)pp 408-413. By Jeng CM, Cheng TC, Kung CH, Hsu HC. Department of radiology, Cathay General Hospital; School of Medicine, Fu-Jen Catholic University, Shin-Chuang City; Department of Radiology, Taipei Medical University Hospital; Department of Medical Imaging, Taiwan Adventist Hospital, Taipei, Taiwan. [Email: jengcm@cgh.org.tw]

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