Back Pain? Try Yoga

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Yoga works as well as physical therapy for relieving back pain, a randomized trial found.

The study, in the Annals of Internal Medicine, included 320 people ages 18 to 64 with moderate and persistent low back pain. Researchers assigned them to either 12 weekly sessions with a yoga instructor, 15 sessions of physical therapy over 12 weeks, or education with a book and periodic newsletters about back pain therapy. They measured pain intensity and disability with well-validated questionnaires.

In both the yoga and physical therapy groups, about half the participants achieved reduced pain and disability, and about half reduced their drug use. Those in the education group did not do as well: about a fifth showed improved physical function, 14 percent found pain relief, and 25 percent reduced their use of pain medication.

People apparently liked yoga better — more people in the physical therapy and education groups dropped out of the study. The researchers controlled for race, age, income, body mass index, medications and other variables.

“I’d tell my friends to use yoga for back pain,” said the senior author, Janice Weinberg, a professor of biostatistics at the Boston University School of Public Health. “It is cost effective, it can be done at home or in group settings where there is social support, and it is also thought to have mental health benefits.”