A 12-week yoga program was more effective than conventional exercise or a self-help program for improving function and reducing chronic low-back pain, according to research published in the Annals of Internal Medicine (2005; 143 [12], 849–56). Scientists at the Center for Health Studies at Group Health Cooperative, a nonprofit, integrated healthcare system with enrollees in Washington and Idaho, studied 101 adults with chronic low-back pain during a 12-week intervention and 26 weeks of follow-up.

The subjects were divided into three groups. One group participated in a 75-minute weekly yoga class and practiced at home. Another group attended a 75-minute weekly group exercise class that included cardiovascular, strengthening and stretching exercises; these subjects also practiced at home. The final group received a self-help book with back care information.

After 12 weeks, back function and back pain had improved most in the yoga group. This group continued to enjoy the benefits of training until the end of the follow-up period.

Gary Kraftsow and Robin Rothenberg developed the yoga intervention specifically for people with chronic low-back pain and no prior experience in the discipline. The program was based on viniyoga, a therapeutic style of yoga that emphasizes safety. The practice consisted of a core of 17 relatively simple postures and adaptations. To view these poses, go to www.annals.org/cgi/content/full/143/12/849 and click on “Appendix Figure” in the right-hand column.

In light of these positive results, the study authors suggested that physicians recommend yoga for patients with back pain, telling them to choose instructors who have experience with this type of complaint.