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Yoga Helps Reduce Lower Back Pain


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By Margarita Nahapetyan

According to the findings of the new three-year study, carried out by West Virginia University, individuals with chronic lower back pain who do yoga, improve their mood and do better at overcoming pain and depression, when compared to those who use conventional medicinal treatments for back pain.

Patients who were assigned to take yoga for the period of 2 months reported a 29 per cent reduction in functional disability and a 42 per cent decrease in pain, and in addition yoga was associated with nearly 46 per cent reduction in symptoms of depression over the standard medical therapy alone. "The yoga group had less pain, less functional disability and less depression compared with the control group," said Dr. Kimberly Williams, Ph.D., research assistant professor in the Department of Community Medicine at West Virginia University in Morgantown. "These were statistically significant and clinically important changes that were maintained six months after the intervention."

For the study purposes, the experts recruited 90 individuals who they assigned either to a group that was performing yoga or to a control group that did not take yoga classes. The participants in the yoga group took part in 90-minute yoga classes twice a week for the period of 2 months. The classes were taught by a certified Iyengar yoga instructor as well as two assistants with experience in yoga therapy for patients with lower back pain.

The subjects were given props, a DVD and an instruction manual. They were asked to practice yoga for half an hour on days when no formal classes were performed. As to those in the control group, they continued self-directed standard medical treatment, with no instructions to change the therapy that was prescribed to them earlier by their doctor. All of them were put on a wait list to join yoga classes after the experiment was completed.

At 12 weeks and 6 months, the investigators assessed functional disability of the participants, as well as their pain and depression, with the help of self-administered questionnaires. Six months after the completion of the study-directed yoga classes, 67.9 per cent of the participants in the yoga group reported that they were still practicing. The experts found that:

  • Significantly greater reductions in functional disability and pain intensity were observed in the yoga group, when compared to the control group receiving medical treatment.

  • The yoga group participants demonstrated greater betterment in mood when compared to patients in the control group.

  • Decrease in pain was also greater in the yoga group as compared to the medical therapy group.

Yoga is an ancient Indian art that uses breathing in and out during various postures in order to keep various body elements in balance. Many people take up Yoga to relax, to improve blood circulation, bring down stress levels and boost the immune system. Iyengar yoga is the most popular form of the discipline, it has more than 2,000 certified teachers in more than forty countries worldwide. Yoga can be practiced by almost any person and has been seen as especially useful to individuals who suffer from chronic lower back pain, which affects between 70 and 85 per cent of the population at some point in their lives and costs $34 billion in direct medical costs every year.

The study appears in the September 1 issue of the journal Spine. The research was funded by the US National Institutes of Health.

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