A recent study funded by the government’s National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine found that regular yoga practice improved function and reduced back pain symptoms better than routine medical care in 228 back pain sufferers who participated in a clinical trial.
But the researchers found that those study participants who took regular stretching classes also experienced increased mobility and less pain — on par with those who took yoga.
“I was actually surprised that yoga worked,” said study author Karen Sherman, of the Group Health Research Institute in Seattle. “But now we’re trying to find out what’s going on. Was it the movement involved in the poses or the relaxation and stretches?”
The study participants had instructors well versed in back pain and able to modify poses based on the participant’s weak spots. The type of yoga practiced in the study was viniyoga, which emphasizes adaptation to individual students.
Finding a yoga instructor properly trained in viniyoga is key if you are taking yoga to relieve chronic pain. “Observe classes, ask other students for advice on who’s good, and speak to the instructor beforehand,” advised NCCAM director Dr. Josephine Briggs, an avid yoga practitioner. You should also get a green light from your doctor, since it may not be safe to practice yoga for specific back problems.