A recent study found that yoga can be equally as beneficial for treating back pain as physical therapy.1 This is important research in light of recent changes to the American College of Physicians guidelines on treating low back pain, which recommends non-pharmaceutical intervention as first line treatment, listing yoga specifically as an option. The therapeutic yoga in question is specifically designed for back pain, utilizing gentle poses.
Yoga Protocol Created by Boston Medical Center Researchers
The yoga protocol has been created by researchers at the Boston Medical Center with cooperation from yoga instructors, physicians, and physical therapists. The class guides participants through gentle poses – cat-cow, triangle, and child’s pose. Relaxation techniques are also a part of the class. More difficult poses, such as those which require inversion are omitted.
Study of 320 Participants with Lower Back Pain
The study looked at 320 participants who all complained of chronic low back pain. The study lasted 1 year. Participants were divided into 3 groups. The first group underwent a 12 week weekly yoga class. The second group did 15 sessions of physical therapy (PT), and the third group received an educational book and newsletters. For the rest of the year, participants in the yoga group were recommended to do either a drop-in class or home practice. The PT recommendations were similar. Using a 23-item questionnaire, the participants rated their pain and function over the duration of the year.
At the outset of the study, 70% of the participants were taking some form of pain medication. Three months into the study, yoga and PT groups had seen roughly a 50% decrease in pain medication use. The use of pain medication did not change in the control group.
Yoga the New PT for Back Pain? Possibly, in the Future
The reason why the study compares yoga with PT, says Rob Saper, director of integrative medicine at Boston Medical Center, is that “PT is the most common referral that physicians make for patients with back pain. It’s accepted, it’s reimbursed, and it’s offered in most hospitals.” If this comparison is favorable, it may lead to yoga being offered in a similar manner.
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- Yoga, Physical Therapy, or Education for Chronic Low Back Pain. Ann Intern Med. 2017
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Node Smith, associate editor for NDNR, is a fifth year naturopathic medical student at NUNM, where he has been instrumental in maintaining a firm connection to the philosophy and heritage of naturopathic medicine amongst the next generation of docs. He helped found the first multi-generational experiential retreat, which brings elders, alumni, and students together for a weekend camp out where naturopathic medicine and medical philosophy are experienced in nature. Three years ago he helped found the non-profit, Association for Naturopathic ReVitalization (ANR), for which he serves as the board chairman. ANR has a mission to inspire health practitioners to embody the naturopathic principles through experiential education. Node also has a firm belief that the next era of naturopathic medicine will see a resurgence of in-patient facilities which use fasting, earthing, hydrotherapy and homeopathy to bring people back from chronic diseases of modern living; he is involved in numerous conversations and projects to bring about this vision.