Government NICE guidelines recommend exercise in all forms as the first management choice for lower back pain. This means that yoga is a suitable option for people with chronic back pain.
Considering yoga in particular, a 2005 RCT (Randomised Control Study)(Sherman et al.) showed that students following a series of 12 weekly yoga classes reduced their medication and sought less support from other therapists such as masseurs and chiropractors.
The study was comparing the effect of yoga classes to a back specific exercise programme and to a self-care back book. ‘Compared with the book group, the yoga group showed clinically important and statistically significant improvements in functional status at all follow-up points’. The yoga group had significantly greater improvement than the exercise group at 12 weeks, but the differences were deemed clinically unimportant. However at a 26 week checkpoint the yoga students were experiencing more benefits than the exercise and the book group.
Over 100 female and male participants took part in the 3 trial groups, they mainly had chronic lower back pain for over a year and had not tried yoga before. As with all trials there were exclusions based on health issues or other criteria which can you read about in the study. The authors of the study state that the mental focus of yoga may have been a benefit, as well as some participants anecdotally reporting that the classes increased awareness of how they move and position their body, can relax tense muscles and relieve mental stress.
The yoga was based on a programme of breathing, yoga postures and relaxation over a 75 minute duration. They were asked to accompany this with some home practice and students tended to do 30 minutes of practice a few times a week.
Yoga postures are diverse and the trial used simple yoga postures that include lying on the floor and standing. Focus was on relaxation, building strength, flexibility, large-muscle movement; asymmetric poses; strengthening the hip muscles; lateral bending; integration; and customising a personal practice.
Yoga is also cost effective with a typical class costing in the region of £10; compare that to the ongoing cost of massage or physiotherapy. All you need is a yoga mat and some comfy clothing.
If you have a sore back and would like to try yoga for yourself then you can:
Speak to your GP to get a diagnosis. This does not stop you doing yoga but it helps your yoga teacher to tell you which postures to do or modify.
Get yourself a sticky yoga mat, buy online or in a sport shop (avoid slippy gym mats).
Decide what to wear, comfy layers are the best option.
Book onto a class: I run a Wednesday class at 8pm to 9.15pm online/Wokingham
If you’re not in the area then you need a Hatha or Viniyoga style class and can search the British Wheel of Yoga website. Bikram, Vinyasa, Iyengar and Power yoga are likely to not be beneficial if you are starting out.
Be prepared to do some yoga at home a few times a week.
NHS guidelines: http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Back-pain/Pages/Introduction.aspx
A guide to Yoga – NHS http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/fitness/Pages/yoga.aspx
Joanne Hart is a qualified yoga teacher (British Wheel of Yoga) and has been teaching for over 6 years, including a stint in California. She is also a Registered Nutritional Therapist BSc (Hons), and a member of BANT and CNHC. Yoga is suitable for many health conditions, as is Nutritional Therapy. Both work alongside conventional medicine and are used by people who are well, doing sports, and people who would like additional support for their health conditions.