Yoga, Stretching May Relieve Chronic Low Back Pain
Chronic low back pain can be life-altering and debilitating, as well as difficult and frustrating to manage. A new study finds that yoga and stretching were both more effective than a self-care book when it comes to improving function and reducing symptoms.
Stretching and yoga are inexpensive, accessible, and safe
Low back pain is defined as chronic when it lasts more than 3 months. Chronic low back pain is the most common cause of disability among Americans who are younger than 45, and it is the second most frequent reason to visit a doctor for a chronic condition. Treatment may include a combination of prescription and over-the-counter drugs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, anticonvulsants, antidepressants, and/or opioids), as well as chiropractic and physical therapy.
In this new study, Karen J. Sherman, PhD, MPH, from Group Health Research Institute in Seattle, and her colleagues evaluated whether yoga was more effective than conventional stretching exercises or a self-care book for primary care patients who have chronic low back pain. Ninety-two adults with chronic low back pain attended weekly yoga classes for 12 weeks while 91 went to conventional stretching exercises classes and 45 used advice on exercising, lifestyle modifications, and how to manage flare-ups from a self-care book.
Results of the study, which were published Online First by the Archives of Internal Medicine, showed that “back-related dysfunction declined over time in all groups,” according to the authors. Compared with patients in the self-care group, those who took yoga classes reported superior function at 12 and 26 weeks, while those in the stretching group said they had superior function at six, 12, and 26 weeks.
The difference in improvement between the yoga and stretching groups was not statistically or clinically significant at any time during the study. Overall, the authors noted that “physical activity involving stretching, regardless of whether it is achieved using yoga or more conventional exercises, has moderate benefits in individuals with moderately impairing low back pain.”
If you suffer with chronic low back pain, yoga or stretching exercises may provide some relief, and that relief may last for several months, according to the results in this new study. The authors concluded that “finding similar effects for both approaches suggests that yoga’s benefits were largely attributable to the physical benefits of stretching and strengthening the muscles and not to its mental components.”
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
Sherman KJ et al. Archives of Internal Medicine 2011 Oct; DOI: 10.1001/archinternmed.2011.524