The study, published in this month's issue of the journal Spine, was a three-year, $400,000 research project funded by National Institutes of Health. Researchers assigned 90 people with chronic low back pain to a yoga group or a control group that received standard medical care.
Those in the yoga group participated in 24 weeks of biweekly yoga classes designed for people with chronic lower-back pain. Six months after the study ended, those in the yoga group reported significantly more improvements in pain and functionality compared with subjects in the other group. In addition, depression was much lower in the yoga subjects. The use of pain medication was reduced, but that reduction was similar in both groups.
"The yoga group had less pain, less functional disability and less depression compared with the control group," Kimberly Williams, the lead investigator, from West Virginia University, said in a news release. "Proponents of yoga have long described its benefits in reducing back pain. But not everyone was convinced. This is a much bigger, much more rigorous evaluation than had been done before."
The classes were taught by an instructor certified in Iyengar yoga, a type that emphasizes posture.
-- Shari Roan
Photo credit: Tony Gutierrez / Associated Press