Yoga for Women with Chronic Back Pain

A study from the University of York in York, U.K., has found that yoga improves back functionality in people—particularly women—who suffer from chronic lower back pain.  Researchers examined 300 subjects who had suffered from chronic back pain for an average of 10 years and discovered that subjects who completed a three-month yoga course had a greater range of motion and were able to complete tasks more easily.

In the United States, back pain is the fifth most common reasons why people visit their doctors.  Nine out of ten adults experience back pain or injury at least once in their life and half of adults report suffering from back pain every year.  Chronic back pain can be caused by a previous injury, but often it’s simply a result of aging.  As we get older, we naturally lose fluid and flexibility in our spines, which can cause chronic pain, especially when coupled with lifestyle factors like desk jobs or insufficient exercise. It affects men and women about equally, and tends to start up between the ages of 30 and 50.

Because it is such a common ailment, finding drug-free treatments for back pain are important.  This study is the second in a line that explores the effects of yoga for back pain.  The 300 participants were split into two groups: a control group, who were given a book about managing back pain, and a yoga group, who were enrolled in a 12-week yoga class.  Both groups were told to continue their previous treatment efforts along with their new undertakings.

At the beginning of the trial, subjects were asked to rate their “disability level” (how easy they found it to perform every day tasks) on a scale of 0-24.  At the beginning of the study, the average was 8 for both the yoga and the control groups.  After three months, the yoga group reported an improvement of 2-2.5 points in functionality, while the non-yoga group reported no change.  Both groups reported a 1-4 point improvement in pain.

Researchers were heartened by their findings, saying that the improvement in functionality and pain level would improve patients’ quality of life.  Still, more research is needed to discover exactly how yoga for back pain confers its benefits and how best to utilize it in a treatment program.  But researchers still think yoga is a good alternative, particularly because it is relatively convenient and cheap. Treatments for back pain are expensive, but yoga classes cost around 20 dollars can be practiced for free once you learn the techniques.

“The important thing about exercise is, you need to do a type of exercise that you enjoy and that you can work with in your schedule and your lifestyle,” said Dr. Timothy Carey, a back pain researcher at UNC, Chapel Hill. “It’s important to kind of hang in there with the exercise, and I think that’s where the classes may help.”

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