Why Yoga?: About Low Back Pain

  • The most popular “conventional” medical treatments for low back pain have been bed rest, spinal surgery, opiod painkillers and steroid injections. These have proved not only ineffective in most cases but also harmful in some. “The evidence increasingly supports a range of exercise programs and alternative therapies, such as massage and yoga.” (Julia Belluz) And, in fact, the U.S. medical establishment has now reversed their previous protocol. (Korin Miller)
  • Confirming the anecdotal experience of yoga teachers and practitioners, a Boston Medical Center study shows that yoga is as effective as physical therapy in treating chronic low back pain.
  • Including gentle yoga in treatment carries little risk of harm.
  • In addition to improvements in perceived pain, yoga students typically experience improved mood and stress reduction.
  • Including yoga in low back pain treatment may result in lower health care costs.

Medical Establishment Reverses Failed Policy

On [February 13, 2017], the American College of Physicians released updated guidelines that urge doctors to avoid medication as the first-line therapy for lower back pain—a departure from its previous guidelines. Instead, the organization says doctors should urge patients to use alternative therapies, like yoga, heat, exercise, acupuncture, massage therapy, low-level laser therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, or spinal manipulation under the guidance of a medical professional before they try medication. Physicians should also tell their patients that lower back pain typically improves over time, regardless of the treatment they use. – Korin Miller

Conventional Treatment Satisfaction Low

Patient satisfaction with the effectiveness of conventional chronic low back pain treatment is relatively low. – Boston Medical Center

More on Medical System Failure

Millions of back patients… are floundering in a medical system that isn’t equipped to help them. They’re pushed toward intrusive, addictive, expensive interventions that often fail or can even harm them, and away from things like yoga or psychotherapy, which actually seem to help. Meanwhile, Americans and their doctors have come to expect cures for everything — and back pain is one of those nearly universal ailments with no cure… I read through more than 80 studies (mainly reviews of the research that summarized the findings of hundreds more studies)… What I found surprised me: Many of these approaches really do seem to help, though often with modest effects. But when you compare even those small benefits with the harm we’re currently doing while medically “treating” back pain, the horror of the status quo becomes clear. “No one dies of low back pain,” one back pain expert, University of Amsterdam assistant professor Sidney Rubinstein, summed up, “but people are now dying from the treatment.” – Julia Belluz,

Study Results: Yoga as Effective as Physical Therapy

  • “A study conducted by Boston Medical Center researchers (with input from yoga teachers, doctors, and physical therapists) proved that gentle yoga was just as safe and effective for reducing back pain as physical therapy. The study lasted one year and the subjects included 320 participants, who were racially diverse and predominantly low-income, all of whom had chronic low back pain. During the program, specially trained yoga teachers guided the students in practicing simple, gentle poses, such as Cat-Cow pose, Triangle pose, and Child’s pose. The findings were published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.” (Yoga for Healthy Aging)
  • “The yoga and physical therapy groups showed almost the same amount of improvement in pain and activity limitation over time… Participants in both the yoga and physical therapy groups were less likely to use pain medications at 3 months compared with the education group. Other measurements (satisfaction and quality of life) were similar between the physical therapy and yoga groups.” (Annals of Internal Medicine)

See also Chronic Pain.