Traditional goals of practising yoga, including the attainment of perfect spiritual insight and tranquility, relaxation, and meditation, have evolved recently to include aspects of health we help our patients with – improving flexibility or general fitness, maintaining mobility, and injury treatment or prevention.
The combination of physical exercise, stretching and mental focus, in addition to emphasis on self-care, self-awareness, breathing and posture, makes yoga a potentially helpful tool in addressing many musculoskeletal pain syndromes, including low back pain.
Two recent studies have shown how yoga is safe and effective treatment option for those who have low back pain. One looks at how yoga impacts spinal disc health and the other evaluates yoga as a treatment for chronic LBP.
Yoga on Spinal Disc Health
In the first study, researchers compared MRI images of 18 individuals (non-yoga subjects) with those of 18 yoga instructors with at least 10 years of practice experience. Neck and low back MRI images were examined on all subjects, and the authors of the study graded the degree of degeneration in the discs.
The study found significantly lower amounts of disc degeneration in the yoga instructors group compared to the control (non-yoga) group.
Although this is a preliminary study, and more research is needed, the results are certainly interesting and promising. If we can reduce or even slow down the degree of degeneration in our discs as we age we may potentially have a significant effect on reducing or preventing low back and neck pain. Given that 80% of us will suffer from back pain at some point in our lives, this may be an effective way to help increase our chances of living a more pain-free life!
Jeng C et al. Yoga and disc degenerative disease in cervical and lumbar spine: An MR imaging-based case control study. European Spine Journal 2011; 20: 408.413.
Yoga on Low Back Pain
In the second study, a total of 313 people with chronic low back pain were randomly assigned to one of two groups and all were given a back pain education booklet and “usual care” (which was not clearly explained by the authors of the study). Individuals in the yoga group also attended twelve 75-minute classes over the 3-month period.
The yoga group showed greater improvements in back function at the 3, 6, and 12 month follow-ups. Although the reduction in the low back pain symptoms in the yoga group was most pronounced at the 3 month mark, there was a significant reduction in pain that lasted across the entire 12 month period.
Yoga appears to be a safe and effective treatment option for individuals with chronic or recurrent low back pain. If you haven’t tried it yet, maybe now is the time to tray a therapeutic yoga class and say goodbye to your back pain!
Tilbrook HE et al. Yoga for chronic low back pain – A randomized trial. Annals of Internal Medicine 2011; 155: 569.578.