Lower Back Pain Eased with Yoga
< Sep. 09, 2009 > -- According to a new study, chronic pain in the lower back may be eased with yoga.
The study is published in the medical journal Spine.
Iyengar yoga, a form of hatha yoga that is popular in the United States, builds strength, flexibility, and balance by taking participants through a series of specific poses.
Yoga Versus Usual Therapy
Researchers at West Virginia University divided 90 people, aged 23 to 66, who had mild to moderate functional disability as a result of back pain, into two groups.
One group underwent 90-minute sessions of Iyengar yoga twice a week for six months. The other group continued whatever medical therapy or treatments they had been doing.
At the three-month and six-month marks, the study participants filled out questionnaires that asked about pain levels, difficulty performing physical tasks, and pain medications being taken. A greater proportion of those who had participated in yoga reported improvements in their pain and functioning, as well as fewer symptoms of depression.
"The yoga group had less pain, less functional disability, and less depression, compared with the control group," says study author Kimberly Williams, Ph.D., a research assistant professor in the department of community medicine at West Virginia University. "These were statistically significant and clinically important changes that were maintained six months after the intervention."
Strength and Flexibility Improved
Dr. Todd J. Albert, chairman of the department of orthopedics at Thomas Jefferson University Hospitals and the Rothman Institute in Philadelphia, says the study, funded by the US National Institutes of Health (NIH), was well-designed.
According to Dr. Albert, yoga and Pilates are helpful in treating chronic low back pain. "There is so much concentration on core strengthening, which is critical for people who have been de-conditioned," he says.
Lower back pain can cause people to stop exercising because of discomfort or fear of causing further injury to their back. The lack of activity can cause the back muscles to become "de-conditioned," or weakened, setting up conditions for even more chronic pain.
Exercises such as yoga help reverse the muscle weakness by strengthening muscles of the mid-section, including the back extensors, abdominals, and gluteus, which are key for stabilizing the trunk and decreasing stress on the spine.
"Strengthening those muscles is like creating a brace around your torso," Dr. Albert explains.
Additional Effects from Yoga
Lower back pain represents between 20 percent and 25 percent of medical claims and exceeds $34 billion in annual direct medical costs, according to background information in the study.
Mary Lou Galantino, Ph.D., a professor of physical therapy at Richard Stockton College of New Jersey, says the study confirms previous research about the benefits of yoga for helping with conditions as varied as menopause and osteoarthritis. Other research has shown that yoga can improve mood in women with breast cancer.
"There is so much data excitingly pointing to the physical, psychological and spiritual benefits of yoga," Dr. Galantino says. "I also believe there's a social aspect to yoga. It can foster a sense of community and overarching well-being."
Though strengthening the back is important, so are the spiritual and psychological aspects of yoga, including meditation and deep breathing, Dr. Galantino adds.
"In order to have a holistic approach to one's well being, you want to get to the physical, the psychological, the emotional and the spiritual," says Dr. Galantino, a yoga instructor. "That is integrated care. If done with proper breathing, postures and meditation, yoga does all of that. You have to have all of the elements. If we westernize it and make it solely an athletic program, then you may not receive all of the benefits."
Though there are many causes of lower back pain, the culprit is often a herniated disc or arthritis. Though people suffering from back pain may worry that exercise could make the pain worse, it is not likely to as long as you do not overdo it, Dr. Albert says.
Always consult your physician for more information.
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Complementary and Alternative Medicine
Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) encompasses non-conventional approaches to healing beyond traditional medicine.
Complementary medicine and alternative medicine are two different approaches.
Complementary medicine is any form of therapy used in combination with other alternative treatments or standard/conventional medicine. Complementary therapy usually serves to relieve symptoms and improve quality of life.
Alternative medicine is used alone without recommended standard treatment.
Integrative therapy combines conventional medicine and complementary and alternative medicine. Some scientific evidence shows integrative therapy to be safe and beneficial.
Some people use complementary treatments to relieve symptoms or side effects while undergoing standard/conventional treatment (such as pain relief during cancer treatment). Standard/conventional medicine refers to medical treatments that have been scientifically tested and found to be safe and effective. The standard/conventional treatments have been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Other people may decide to pursue either complementary or alternative therapy. It is highly recommended that you consult your physician before beginning any treatment regime, as these treatments are not scientifically tested or proven.
Yoga is an ancient posturing and breathing technique from India. Yoga means "union." Yoga also uses slow movement, in addition to meditation and breathing exercises to reach a state of relaxation.
Yoga helps to:
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