Johns Hopkins Health Alerts
Mounting evidence suggests that yoga can relieve chronic
back pain. There are many schools or types of yoga. They
feature precise alignment and props such as mats, blocks,
and straps. The props help in achieving correct yoga poses.
The poses, combined with breathing techniques, help relax
muscles and calm the mind.
There’s nothing new in the world of exercises for
back pain, correct? Not exactly. In fact, there’s
more evidence that yoga -- specifically, Iyengar yoga --
can help alleviate chronic back pain.
There are many schools or types of yoga. Iyengar yoga (named
for its developer, B.K.S. Iyengar) features precise alignment
and props such as blankets, bolsters, and chairs. The props
help people who are less flexible and/or are injured achieve
the correct yoga poses. The attention to alignment helps
prevent further injury.
Iyengar yoga teachers are trained with a premium on knowledge
and a stepladder of increasing levels of accreditation.
Even at the entry level, certified teachers undergo a rigorous
education program that includes in-depth knowledge of anatomy
and physiology, and demonstrated expertise in teaching.
In the first randomized trial of Iyengar yoga and back
pain, 60 participants were placed in either a yoga group
or an educational group. Both programs lasted 16 weeks.
Participants had experienced low back pain for an average
of 11.2 years, and 48% used pain medication. At the end
of the study and at a three-month follow-up, those in the
yoga group had significant reductions in pain intensity,
functional disability (including spinal range of motion),
and use of pain medication. The results compare favorably
with results obtained with physical therapy.
With yoga’s increasing popularity, finding a teacher
today is easier than ever. If your local Yellow Pages aren’t
helpful, try Yoga Journal (www.yogajournal.com) or the
National Association of Iyengar Teachers (www.iynaus.com).
Be sure to ask about the teacher’s training and certification,
and be honest about your concerns and any limitations or
Remember, too, that yoga is not a competitive sport: You
have nothing to prove, and there is no gain to be found
in pain. Honor your body, with all of its idiosyncrasies.
If you come up empty-handed, don’t despair. Many
of the back exercises taught by physical therapists closely
resemble those taught in a yoga studio.
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