A new study reveals that yoga may be an effective alternative to pain medications and physical therapy for individuals suffering from chronic low back pain.
Millions of people around the world suffer from severe lower back pain and have to rely on medication to function normally. However, prolonged use of such medicines has side effects, which have led doctors to prescribe physical therapy as an alternative.
The researchers at the American College of Physicians conducted the latest study, which shows that yoga is just as effective in easing chronic low back pain as physical therapy. The study’s findings may have far-reaching implications in the medical world and may alter the way yoga is perceived.
Yoga: An Effective Alternative To Physical Therapy?
To validate their hypothesis that just like physical therapy, yoga is effective in decreasing chronic low back pain, researchers from the Boston Medical Center observed 320 adults. The participants had an average age of 46 years and all of them suffered from moderate or severe chronic low back pain. Nearly 66 percent of the subjects also took pain medication.
Most of the subjects were from low-income groups and the data was assimilated based on the participants’ response via a questionnaire.
The researchers divided the subjects into three groups. The first group underwent 12 weeks of physical therapy, including 15 sessions that lasted an hour each. The second group, on the other hand, took 12 weeks of yoga, which comprised 12 classes that were 75 minutes long. These classes were specifically designed keeping in mind people who suffered from chronic lower back pain.
The third set of participants – the control group – did not have any physical therapy or yoga sessions but were instead given self-help books and newsletters to read and follow. The researchers followed this group’s progress through phone calls each day for 12 weeks.
After the 12-week period was complete, both physical therapy and yoga group members regularly practiced these at home and also attended occasional sessions for the 40-week maintenance phase. The self-help group members continued to receive support through phone-ins.
After the end of the nine-month period, researchers discovered that both the yoga and physical therapy groups had improved pain levels and a large number of them even abstained from consuming pain medication. The researchers surmised that the outcome was nearly the same for physical therapy and yoga.
“In light of the complex factors affecting both diagnosis and outcomes in chronic [lower back pain], any single treatment is unlikely to prove helpful to all or even most patients,” Douglas G. Chang and Stefan G. Kertesz, a doctor and researcher with Birmingham Veterans Affairs Medical Center, wrote in an editorial.
Benefits Of Yoga
Nearly 10 percent Americans suffer from chronic lower back pain and according to the NIH, nearly 80 percent of adults experience it at some juncture. This is also the most common cause of people missing work. Studies have revealed that practicing yoga for at least 30 minutes once a week for four years helps people avoid weight gain and stay in tune with their bodies. People who practice yoga daily not only lose weight but also have lower BMI vis-à-vis those who do not practice yoga.
Yoga boosts overall fitness in the body, leading to stronger muscles, endurance, cardio-respiratory fitness, and flexibility. Previous studies have also indicated that regular sessions of yoga significantly lowered the risk of high blood pressure and cardiovascular diseases. The practice also improved lipid profiles and kept blood sugar levels in check.
The Study’s Limitations
Even though the latest study’s results indicate that yoga is helpful for people suffering from chronic lower back pain, there are some limitations. For instance, most of the participants were women, which is why the results are not comprehensive. Furthermore, the yoga classes were specifically designed for chronic back pain sufferers and, therefore, the results may not be conclusive.
The study’s findings were published in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine on June 20.
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