Yoga Is Better for Back Pain Than Standard Medical Care, Study Finds

Yoga is better at treating lower back pain than conventional medical treatment, according to a large-scale British study published Tuesday.

People with long-term back pain who undertook a 12-week course of yoga experienced more improved back function than those who received standard medical care, researchers from the University of York found.

The study, published in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine, saw 156 patients take part in yoga classes while a control group of 157 patients received standard care from the U.K.'s National Health Service (NHS).

After three months, participants in the yoga group were able to undertake 30 percent more activities compared with those receiving NHS care, and also experienced a reduction in pain.

The main advantages were improved confidence when performing everyday tasks such as "walking more quickly, getting dressed without help or standing up for longer periods of time" but not necessarily pain relief, the researchers said.

Dr. David Torgerson, from the university's health sciences department, said, "Back pain is an extremely common and costly condition. Exercise treatment, although widely used and recommended, has only a small effect."

He added, "Our results showed that yoga can provide both short- and long-term benefits to those suffering from chronic or recurrent back pain, without any serious side effects."

Professor Alan Silman, medical director of Arthritis Research U.K., which funded the study, said, "This trial is part of our larger commitment to seek self-help solutions to this common musculoskeletal problem. There are compelling explanations why yoga may be helpful, and this trial lends powerful support to the wider use of this approach."

Sue Faulkner, 68, from York, in northern England, took part in the yoga trial. She said, "Walking around is no longer a problem, and I can do my gardening now so long as I pace myself."

Lower back pain affects 80 percent of the U.K. population at some point in their lives, but few effective treatments exist.