A new trial study has found that yoga may benefit lower back pain as much as physical therapy, but neither are a cure nor were either intervention successful for every person.
Over the course of a 12-week trial, those who partook in yoga or physical therapy did note that they felt less pain, and this improvement lasted about a year among participants. Some patients were even able to cut out the use of pain medications. Unfortunately, there were many patients who did not obtain relief from these therapies.
It is recommended that non-drug options for lower back pain should be practiced first, and if those fail, the drug options should be recommended by doctors. The reasoning for this is that many pain medications have not been found to be successful in treating back pain.
Other studies that have looked at alternative methods to treat back pain have been small and limited, not showing much benefit to patients.
The latest trial included patients who wouldn’t normally have access to complimentary treatment. The trial included 320 patients from low-income backgrounds who were minorities. These patients all experienced chronic lower back pain for at least 12 weeks.
The patients were randomly assigned to either yoga classes (either at home or in studio), physical therapy sessions, or education groups that provided patients with a book on how to manage back pain.
At the end of the 12-week trial, those participants in yoga and physical therapy fared better than those in the education group.
Yoga improved pain and disability
Nearly half of the yoga participants experienced a “clinically meaningful” improvement in their levels of pain and disability, which means it was enough to make a notable difference in the function of their everyday lives. The same could be said for 37 percent of the patients in the physical therapy group. In the education group, only 23 percent of patients experienced the same results.
Author of an accompanying editorial, Dr. Stefan Kertesz, said, “This was an excellent study. But we also shouldn’t oversell it — the way drugs and procedures were historically oversold. The reality is, yoga was not a panacea for most of these patients.”
Although the benefits of yoga continue to grow and be explored, the sad reality is that yoga classes can be pricey and insurance companies are not likely to cover them. This can discourage patients from utilizing this treatment method.
The same can be said for physical therapy, as many insurance companies do not cover the full amount or they limit the amount they do cover.
The findings of the study were published online in the Annals of Internal Medicine.