Stretching your way to back pain relief

By Greg Hamilton • Published: August 1st, 2017
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Your lower back is aching, but you don’t want to reach for the bottle of pain pills. What can you do to get some relief? New research suggests the answer may be in the downward dog, locust or other gentle yoga poses.

Researchers at Boston Medical Center have released new guidelines specifically designed for back pain that they say are as safe and effective as physical therapy. Published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, the findings align with recent guidelines from the American College of Physicians that say people with moderate back pain should avoid pain meds and instead try tai chi, yoga and massage.

For one year, the researchers worked with 320 people who had chronic low back pain. One group took a weekly yoga class for 12 weeks, a second group had 15 physical therapy sessions, and a third group received only an instruction book and newsletters. For the remaining 40 weeks, the yoga group could attend drop-in classes or practice at home, while the physical therapy group could go to booster sessions or practice at home.

In the yoga classes, instructors taught gentle moves such as the child, sphinx and bridge poses along with relaxation and breathing techniques.

After 12 weeks, 50 percent of those in the yoga and physical therapy sessions said they were taking some pain meds, down from 70 percent when the study began. The researchers considered this to be a significant drop. There was no change in drug use among those in the education-only group.

The study’s authors said yoga can be an effective treatment and, like physical therapy, should be more widely disseminated and, importantly, covered by insurance.