Yoga and stretching can both ease symptoms of chronic lower back pain
Regularly stretching and undertaking yoga exercises can help alleviate chronic lower back pain, according to new research published in the Archives of Internal Medicine.
A team of researchers from the Group Health Research Institute in Seattle, US, found that both intensive stretching classes and sessions of yoga improved function in the lower back, while diminishing chronic pain.
The trial consisted of 228 adults from six cities in the state of Washington. They were randomly split into three groups, with the first two assigned to 12 weekly 75-minute classes of yoga and stretching respectively, while the third group was given a self-care book about managing back pain.
Participants typically had moderate back pain and relatively good mental health, with most undertaking some degree of physical activity before the start of the trial.
Dr Karen Sherman, senior investigator at the institute, explained: 'We found yoga classes more effective than a self-care book - but no more effective than stretching classes.'
Those in both the yoga and stretching groups were able to reduce their reliance on pain medications for at least six months after the 12-week course.
Dr Sherman explained that exercises in the yoga and stretching classes had emphasised the torso and legs.
'We expected back pain to ease more with yoga than with stretching, so our findings surprised us,' she concluded.
'The most straightforward interpretation of our findings would be that yoga's benefits on back function and symptoms were largely physical, due to the stretching and strengthening of muscles.'
However, she suggested that the type of stretches used might be considered quite similar to yoga, as each stretch was held for a prolonged period of time, and therefore might not be entirely representative of typical stretching classes.
A spokesman for Arthritis Research UK concurred that yoga develops flexibility and muscular endurance by allowing the muscles to be stretched and strengthened but added that imminent results of the charity's own clinical trial into the effects of yoga on back pain may reveal more about the specific benefits of yoga postures.
'One of things we are trying to do for back pain patients is to give them tools to deal with their back pain more effectively; not to use yoga to treat the odd episode of back pain, but to give them a means by which they can deal with it in the long term,' he added.