Yoga! Bending Over Backwards Might Actually Help That Back Pain

Physical exercise

By Joy Stephenson-Laws, JD, Founder

Pain in the low back area is a common complaint. It is the most prevalent reported pain, according to a recent report, and one of the leading causes of emergency department visits. Low back pain also affects roughly one third of adults aged 65-74.  

There are also huge healthcare costs associated with back pain. It has been reported that patients suffering from back pain consume more than $90 billion each year in healthcare expenses. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), back pain is estimated to cost 149 million lost work days in the U.S., costing between $100-200 billion per year (two-thirds of the sum coming from lost wages and lower productivity).

The typical treatment for back pain may include physical therapy, surgery and/or medication, which may not completely alleviate the pain. Moreover, when medication is involved, there may be unwanted side effects with pain relief.  

So you can imagine my elation when I discovered a recent study that suggested yoga may be beneficial for back pain. According to a year-long study discussed by the National Institutes for Health (NIH), yoga may be just as effective as physical therapy for treating low back pain.

The study involved 320 predominantly low-income, racially diverse adults aged 18 to 64 with chronic low back pain. Each person was placed in one of three groups:

  • 75-minute yoga class, once per week, taught by a yoga instructor, along with home practice.
  • Individual physical therapy of up to 15 one-hour sessions from a physical therapist and combined with home practice.
  • Educational handbook on self-care for back pain. Every 3 weeks this group received brief newsletters that summarized the main points from assigned chapters. Members of this group also received periodic check-in calls.

Researchers then measured each participant’s pain intensity and disability related to their back pain, from the beginning of the study up to 52 weeks.

At one stage, participants changed regimens.

“For example, the yoga participants were assigned to either home practice or drop-in yoga classes, and the physical therapy participants to either home practice only or five ‘booster’ sessions of physical therapy,” according to the study.

The educational group continued to review their materials and received check-in calls.  

“The researchers found that for pain and function, yoga and physical therapy had similar results, and both were better than the education group. Further, at 12 weeks, the yoga and physical therapy groups were less likely than the education group to use any pain medication. Improvements in the yoga and physical therapy groups were maintained at the end of the 52 weeks,” the NIH reports.

These findings suggest that a yoga class specifically designed to address back pain may be an alternative to physical therapy for easing pain in people with chronic low back pain. You can read more about this study here.  

Chronic pain can be debilitating and negatively impacts your ability to enjoy your healthy life.  It’s very difficult to practice good nutritional habits if you suffer from intense pain. We have previously discussed other ways of alleviating back pain, and to the extent that yoga is a possibility you should discuss this option with your doctor.  

As a side note, in addition to back pain there is other recent evidence that yoga and meditation lifestyle intervention can “definitely reverse/slow down the pace at which we age.”  Since there is clear evidence that yoga is beneficial for our health and well being, it’s probably time we give it a try. I certainly will be including it as part of my healthy lifestyle.  

Enjoy your healthy life!

The pH professional health care team includes recognized experts from a variety of health care and related disciplines, including physicians, attorneys, nutritionists, nurses and certified fitness instructors. This team also includes the members of the pH Medical Advisory Board, which constantly monitors all pH programs, products and services. To learn more about the pH Medical Advisory Board, click here.  


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