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Clinical Studies Show Yoga is a Successful Intervention for Treating Chronic Low Back Pain

Low back pain is the fifth most common reason for visiting a doctor in the United States. (1) About one quarter of American adults report having low back pain that lasted at least one whole day in the past three months. (2)

This picture shows a bulging disc beginning to impinge on the nerves leaving the spinal column.


Many patients have bouts of low back pain that resolve and they never seek medical care. The thing about those acute bouts of low back pain is — even though they resolve, they are usually warnings. Sometimes, it is just an acute muscle spasm or strain. But often, these episodes of severe back pain that put us out of commission for days or weeks can be indications of tearing of the annular rings (those blue things on the right).

As the rings heal and the pain subsides, we go back to doing whatever action it was that caused the pain in the first place.

The problem is: these episodes often lead to one severe incident, where the bulge tears through the final wall and becomes a herniated disc.

A 2007 systematic review “found fair evidence that acupuncture, massage, yoga, and functional restoration are also effective for chronic low back pain.” One trial found therapeutic styles of yoga to be superior to guided self-care (For example, patients following a book of self-care exercises) alone. Yoga was also associated with decreased medication.” (3)

However, one 2008 control study showed that yoga as an intervention was only effective after three to six months of practice.

One of the greatest appeals of yoga for back pain is: unlike medications, yoga is not associated with any serious adverse effects. (4)

12-week outcomes for the yoga group were superior to those for the self-care group. However, this randomized trial involved subjects taking 12 weekly yoga classes, and the results were not far greater than those of the subjects doing only stretching. Both had benefits lasting for several months. (5)

Look out for my back pain workshops coming up in April, May, and June 2018 in South Surrey: Yoga for the Spine at Vayusha Yoga.

1. HartLGDeyoRACherkinDCPhysician office visits for low back pain. Frequency, clinical evaluation, and treatment patterns from a U.S. national survey.Spine199520119PubMedCrossRefDeyoRAMirzaSKMartinBIBack pain prevalence and visit rates: estimates from U.S. national surveys, 2002.Spine20063127247

2. DeyoRAMirzaSKMartinBIBack pain prevalence and visit rates: estimates from U.S. national surveys, 2002.Spine20063127247

3. Chou R, Huffman LH. Nonpharmacologic Therapies for Acute and Chronic Low Back Pain: A Review of the Evidence for an American Pain Society/American College of Physicians Clinical Practice Guideline. Ann Intern Med. 2007;147:492-504. doi: 10.7326/0003-4819-147-7-200710020-00007

4. Padmini Tekur, Chametcha Singphow, Hongasandra Ramarao Nagendra, and Nagarathna Raghuram. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. August 2008, 14(6): 637-644. doi:10.1089/acm.2007.0815.

5. Sherman KJ, Cherkin DC, Wellman RD, Cook AJ, Hawkes RJ, Delaney K, Deyo RA. A Randomized Trial Comparing Yoga, Stretching, and a Self-care Book for Chronic Low Back Pain. Arch Intern Med. 2011;171(22):2019-2026. doi:10.1001/archinternmed.2011.524

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