Yoga may have health benefits for people with chronic non-specific lower back pain

January 12, 2017
Credit: CC0 Public Domain

A new systematic review, published in the Cochrane Library today, suggests that yoga may lead to a reduction in pain and functional ability in people with chronic non-specific lower back pain over the short term, compared with no exercise. However, researchers advise that more studies are needed to provide information on long-term effects.

Lower back is a common health problem, and is usually treated with self-care and over-the-counter medication. For some people it may last for three months or more, and at this point it is considered "chronic". Back pain is sometimes associated with a disease or condition, but the vast majority of cases have an unknown cause, and as a result are described as non-specific. Current guidelines state that therapy may be beneficial, and in particular is sometimes used as a treatment.

Yoga has gained global popularity as a form of mind-body exercise, with general life-style benefits, and recent studies have investigated the potential of yoga to relieve the symptoms of lower back related problems.

A new Cochrane Review summarizes the results of 12 randomized trials from 1,080 men and women with an average age between 34 and 48 years old. The trials were conducted in India, the UK, and the US. All participants had chronic non-specific lower back pain.

The Cochrane researchers included studies that compared practising yoga in a class to not doing any back-focused exercise, or to other forms of exercise. Seven studies compared yoga with no exercise, three studies compared yoga with back-focused exercise, or added yoga for a back-focused exercise programme. Two studies compared yoga with two other forms of control group: no exercise or a self-care book. All yoga interventions used were specifically designed for treatment of lower back pain, and were provided by experienced and qualified teachers.

The Review found that compared to no exercise, practising yoga might improve back-related function and may also reduce symptoms of lower back pain by a small amount in the first six to twelve months, although the effect was consistently less than that judged to be clinically important. However, larger and more robust studies with longer follow up are needed to draw any firm conclusions about the long-term health effects of yoga.

However, yoga may cause an increase in back pain in some people. About 5% more yoga participants experienced increased back pain, although this may be similar to the risk of having side effects from other back-focused exercise.

Lead Cochrane author, Susan Wieland from Cochrane Complementary Medicine at the Center for Integrative Medicine, University of Maryland School of Medicine, Maryland, commented, "Our findings suggest that yoga exercise may lead to reducing the symptoms of lower back pain by a small amount, but the results have come from studies with a short follow up. At the moment we only have low to moderate quality evidence for the effects of yoga before six months as a type of exercise for helping people with chronic lower back pain. The yoga exercises practised in the studies were developed for low back pain and people should also remember that in each of the studies we reviewed, the yoga classes were led by experienced practitioners. The findings of this Cochrane Review will help people make more informed choices about their future treatment options."

Explore further: Yoga may have health benefits for people with asthma

More information: Yoga treatment for chronic non-specific low back pain, DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD010671.pub2 , http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/14651858.CD010671.pub2/abstract

Related Stories

Yoga may have health benefits for people with asthma

April 26, 2016

A new Cochrane Review, published in the Cochrane Library today, suggests that yoga may have a beneficial effect on symptoms and quality of life in people with asthma, but effects on lung function and medication use are uncertain.

Chair yoga helps older adults manage osteoarthritis pain

December 29, 2016

(HealthDay)—Chair yoga may produce sustained improvements in pain interference among older adults with lower extremity osteoarthritis (OA), according to a study published online Dec. 23 in the Journal of the American Geriatrics ...

Review suggests yoga beneficial in irritable bowel syndrome

November 23, 2016

(HealthDay)—Yoga is associated with decreased bowel symptoms, disease severity, and anxiety in patients with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), according to a review published in the December issue of Clinical Gastroenterology ...

Yoga may help kids with cancer

January 4, 2017

A yoga program for children with cancer can be carried out even during cancer treatment, and has quality of life (QOL) benefits for the children as well as their parents, suggests a study in Rehabilitation Oncology, official ...

Recommended for you

Exercise and vitamin D better together for heart health

April 27, 2017

Johns Hopkins researchers report that an analysis of survey responses and health records of more than 10,000 American adults for nearly 20 years suggests a "synergistic" link between exercise and good vitamin D levels in ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.