An estimated 70 to 80 percent of adults experience lower back pain at some point or another. In Canada, the medical expense burden associated with this problem is thought to be between 6 and 12 million dollars a year, not including the cost of work days missed. The usual recommendation to prevent back pain is to do exercises to stretch and strengthen the back and abdominal muscles, and to improve posture. Some studies had previously shown that yoga also appeared beneficial, but most were limited by short study periods and small sample sizes.
A large-scale study was conducted to confirm the benefits of yoga. Over 200 adults with chronic moderate lower back pain were assigned to one of three groups:
- Group 1 : yoga classes focused on posture and strengthening exercises for the legs;
- Group 2 : aerobic activities along with intensive stretching classes and strengthening exercises for the muscles of the lower back and legs;
- Group 3 : The third group received a book containing advice on back exercises and ways to reduce and prevent pain.
Participants from groups 1 and 2 also received exercise CDs and DVDs and were told to practice 20 minutes at home on days when there was no class.
All three groups experienced an improvement in their condition, but the progress varied between the groups. Those who took yoga or stretching classes (groups 1 and 2) saw more marked benefits than those who only received a book of recommendations (group 3). Participants in groups 1 and 2 were also able to further reduce their use of painkiller medication. After the fact, the researchers realized that the deep stretching classes were similar to the type of exercises done in a yoga class, which explains why the two groups had similar results: the participants who took the stretching classes didn’t do quick stretches like before going jogging – they did long and intense exercises.
It therefore seems that both yoga and stretching are beneficial to individuals with back pain. If you want to give it a try, make sure the classes you take allow beginners to take things at their own pace, and that the poses are adapted for people with limitations or pain.