New Research: Yoga Better Than Western Medicine for Back Pain

Tuesday, September 08, 2009 by: S. L. Baker, features writer
Tags: back pain, health news, Natural News

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(NaturalNews) According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), low back pain is an enormous health and economic problem in the U.S. In fact, Americans spend at least $50 billion annually on the condition. It's the most common cause of job-related disability and a leading contributor to missed work days.

Although most occurrences of low back pain go away within a few days, the NINDS web site states low back pain can become chronic and lead to more serious conditions. However, new research shows there's natural, drug-free and effective help for those with chronic low back pain -- the ancient practice of yoga.

A study just published in the journal Spine found that a group of low back pain sufferers who regularly practiced yoga postures had less pain, improved function, and a better mood. What's more, they were far less likely to take drugs for their back problem than a matched group who received standard medical therapy.

"Proponents of yoga have long described its benefits in reducing back pain," researcher Kimberly Williams, Ph.D., of West Virginia University's Department of Community Medicine said in a statement to the media. "But not everybody was convinced. This is a much bigger, much more rigorous evaluation than had been done before."

The $400,000 study, funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), covered three years and involved 90 people. All had mild to moderate functional disability from their back pain. Half were randomly assigned to study Iyengar style yoga and half received conventional medical therapy. Those practicing yoga took 90 minute classes two times a week for 24 weeks, working with postures targeted to relieve chronic low-back pain.

The classes were taught by certified instructors of Iyengar yoga. Iyengar yoga. One of the world's most widely-practiced forms of yoga, Iyengar yoga emphasizes individualized asanas (postures) to build strength, stamina, balance and flexibility. Classes also typically end with a deeply relaxing asana.

The research team followed up on with the research participants both during the trial and six months after the medical therapy or yoga classes ended. The results were dramatic: the yoga group had far less pain, less functional disability and less depression when compared with the control group. "These were statistically significant and clinically important changes that were maintained six months after the intervention (yoga)," Dr. Williams stated.

The research team found that a significantly greater proportion of yoga subjects reported improvements in their conditions after both 12 and 24 weeks of taking yoga classes. When those in the yoga group did have pain, it was less intense. "There was also a clinically important trend for the yoga group to reduce their pain medication usage compared to the control group," the authors of the study concluded.

The Spine study is another example of how mainstream Western medicine is finally taking a look -- and validating -- the health benefits of yoga. As NaturalNews previously reported, researchers have also already found yoga can help prevent middle-age weight gain (, alleviate postpartum depression ( and treat post traumatic stress syndrome ( A Wake Forest University study published earlier this year In Psycho-Oncology documented that yoga practice significantly reduced depression and increased feelings of peace and meaning in women with breast cancer (, too.

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