For people with low-back pain, yoga and stretching are equally effective in reducing symptoms and improving function, suggests a study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine (2011; doi:10.1001/archinternmed.2011.524).
Researchers from the Group Health Research Institute and the University of Washington, both in Seattle, were motivated to find a self-management method to recommend to patients with chronic low-back pain. “We found that physical activity involving stretching, regardless of whether it is achieved using yoga or more conventional exercises, has moderate benefits in individuals with moderately impairing low back pain,” reported study authors. “Finding similar effects for both approaches suggests that yoga’s benefits were largely attributable to the physical benefits of stretching and strengthening the muscles and not to its mental components.”
Investigators randomly assigned 228 adults to 12 weekly yoga classes, conventional stretching exercise classes or use of a self-care book. Participants were interviewed regarding functional ability and pain at the beginning of the study and again after 6, 12 and 26 weeks. Data analysis showed that all groups improved, with the yoga and stretching groups achieving the most gains. No statistically or clinically significant differences were found between yoga and stretching group members.
In another study published the same month in the Annals of Internal Medicine (2011; 155 , 569–78), researchers from the United Kingdom found that offering a 12-week yoga program to adults with chronic or recurrent low-back pain led to greater improvements in back function than did usual care, but yoga did not alleviate pain. This study, which included over 300 subjects, had a different design than the other, but investigators reached a similar conclusion: “Yoga seems to be a safe and effective activity that clinicians could consider recommending for patients with a history of low back pain.”