According to a recent study, yoga can help improve symptoms of chronic lower back pain, but it’s likely not any spiritual or meditation component that does the trick.
The Wall Street Journal (Subscription Publication) reports that, according the a study, published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, weekly yoga classes may help to reduce pain in certain individuals with pain in the lower back. The researchers received funding from the National Institutes of Health’s National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine.
The New York Times “Wellness” blog reports, “The study is the largest and most thorough to date to look at whether yoga has an effect on chronic low back pain, a problem that affects millions and has no surefire long-term remedy.” Several “earlier studies suggested that regular yoga classes might benefit back pain sufferers, though most were limited by small sample sizes, short study periods and other flaws.” Reuters reports that the new study involved 228 patients with chronic back pain.
HealthDay reports, “Although back-related function improved among all the participants, those in the yoga and stretching groups were functionally better off than the self-care group at the study’s end and three months later.” The investigators reported that “yoga and stretching participants were also twice as likely as the self-care group to have cut back on pain medication.”
MedPage Today reports that one of the researchers said, however, that “‘the most straightforward interpretation of our findings would be that yoga’s benefits on back function and symptoms were largely physical, due to the stretching and strengthening of muscles’ and not the discipline’s focus on mindfulness.”
In other words, stretching, regardless of whether it is achieved via yoga classes or conventional stretching exercises, has moderate benefits in adults with moderately impairing chronic low back pain. However there were no differences in functional improvement between yoga and plain stretching exercises, although both were better than self-care.
I’ve blogged in the past about some of the potential spiritual dangers of yoga: