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The healing power of yoga for low back pain

November 5, 2009 |  2:01 pm

In some neighborhoods you can throw a rock and hit a yoga studio. In others, however, yoga classes are practically nonexistent, even though the practice has been shown in studies to have beneficial health effects.

K2s4zonc Researchers took yoga to racially diverse neighborhoods in Boston to see whether three months of steady practice would have any consequence on chronic low back pain. Although the condition is common, minorities may not always have adequate access to treatments such as pain relievers, physical therapy and surgery.

For this pilot study, 30 people, average age 44, were recruited from community health centers in Boston in low-income areas that were racially diverse. They were randomly split into two groups -- one did hatha yoga for 12 weeks, taking classes that included poses and breathing techniques. They were also encouraged to practice at home and were given a yoga CD and handbook, plus a mat, strap and block, and were told to continue their regular medical routine. Participants in the other group continued their usual treatment that included seeing their doctor and taking medication.

After the 12 weeks, those in the yoga group had far lower pain scores than the control -- their pain decreased by a third, compared with 5% in the control group. The yoga group also decreased their use of pain medication by 80%, while the control group's medication didn't change. At the end of the study, 73% of the yoga group said they had overall improvement in back pain, compared with 27% of the control group.

"Our pilot study showed that yoga is well-received in these communities and may be effective for reducing pain and pain medication use," said Dr. Robert Saper in a news release. Saper, the lead author of the study, is also an assistant professor of family medicine at the Boston University School of Medicine and director of integrative medicine at Boston Medical Center. The study appears in the November issue of the journal Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine.

-- Jeannine Stein

Photo credit: Kate Brooks / For The Times

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