Yoga or Physical Therapy for Chronic Low Back Pain?

Yoga or Physical Therapy for Chronic Low Back Pain?

By Staff.

Maybe you’ve tried both yoga and physical therapy, or maybe you haven’t.  Do you know which approach will help you reduce pain, improve function, and lower your use of pain medication?

Researchers set out to see if perhaps one is better than the other, and they just published their findings in Annals of Internal Medicine.

Researchers from Boston Medical Center studied 320 predominantly low-income, racially diverse adults with chronic low back pain.  What they foud was that yoga was as safe and effective as physical therapy for restoring function and relieving pain. Compared to an education only intervention, patients who did yoga or physical therapy were also less likely to take pain medications at 12 weeks.

Chronic low back pain affects approximately 10 percent of U.S. adults and has a greater impact on racial or ethnic minorities and in people of lower socioeconomic status. Physical therapy is the most common evidence-based, reimbursable, and non-pharmacologic therapy prescribed by physicians, but clinical guidelines, meta-analyses, and several large randomized controlled trials also support yoga.

How these two therapies stack up against one another has not been studied. Moreover, little is known about yoga’s effectiveness in underserved patients with more severe functional disability and pain.

The researchers randomly assigned participants to 12 weekly yoga classes, 15 physical therapy visits, or an educational book and newsletters about coping with chronic low back pain.

Following the intervention phase, participants continued with a maintenance phase and were followed to one year. The goal of the noninferiority trial was to determine if yoga was statistically as effective as physical therapy.

The researchers found that a yoga class designed for chronic low back pain patients was as effective as physical therapy for reducing pain, improving function, and lowering use of pain medication. Improvements in yoga and physical therapy groups were maintained at 1 year with no differences between maintenance strategies.

The researchers conclude that yoga may be a reasonable alternative to physical therapy depending upon patient preferences, availability, and cost.

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Authored by: Staff

There are 8 comments for this article
  1. Annie at 7:06 am

    blah blah blah …We need Narcotic Pain Medicine for Chronic Life Long Pain.

    Enough with the Modalities we have ALL tried, decades ago that served the purpose of proving it Didn’t help.

  2. Gayle wright at 8:39 am

    Ever tried medical marijuana for chronic pain?

  3. Vanessa Gray at 12:40 am

    According to a report, during the age from 25 to 55 more than 80% folks suffer from back pain. That means most of us are sufferer of it. On the other hand, when it comes to physical therapy I think chiropractic therapy could be the best choice. As a person linked with this field I would as well recommend it.

  4. Judy at 4:12 pm

    I’m sick to death of these condescending “studies”….they make it sound like we haven’t already tried all these other modalities. I’ve been living with chronic low back pain for 25 years, I’ve had multiple physical therapy sessions over the years….they may help “slightly” for a short period of time, but never relieves the pain more than slightly, and not long term. I’ve tried yoga, but besides chronic low back pain, I also have osteoarthritis in both knees, so getting up & down off the floor is impossible without help, and doing any pose that involves being on one knee or both, is out of the question. So thanks, but no thanks for another study that is pretty much worthless. I hope my tax dollars aren’t being spent on all these worthless studies.

  5. Ibin at 11:59 am

    The treatment of pain in the lower back needs to be addressed as to the severity, in each individual person. if the pain is muscle pain from over exertion, perhaps yoga and or P.T could be very helpful. If a patient has had more intrusive, invasive “repair”, doctor advised, and the end result is very often worse pain, than the patient starts with. This individual painful condition should be treated, as such.I, my personal condition, “feel” better, less pain, while I continue to be active. Active after all other “treatment” has been attempted. Once again, doctor advice, no more surgery will decrease my pain level. Doctor advised, prescribed, medication for now, is the only option available to assist you…….to be active. Sufficient medication, not, limited because a group of physicians, DOT/GOV or ANY other “authority” states that “this” limited dosage and type medication,, is sufficient for one and all. Manageable pain, shoved down the throats of about 30 million citizens, with different pain generating conditions, is “bad” medicine.

  6. Kathy C at 7:48 am

    Misleading again!

    Any p0rogras of movement will help certain cases of ‘Back Pain.” There is virtually no way to even know if a particular practitioner of either of these so called “treatments’ is any better or less dangerous than the other. The idea that they are selling here is that they are the same, and equality effective when compared with he other. What this really means is that they could both be useless and this “Study” would not tell us that. We really ought to be concerned when we read things like this. These so called “Studies” are not Scientific and say nothing, it is like comparing a kick in the bum, with a kick in the shin. What this should tell us is that a person with a Degree in PT is no better, relieving Low Back Pain, than a Good Salesperson with a Yoga Studio.
    This Article tells us less than nothing. The Study was designed to deceive, and is meaningless. My former Math Professor taught me to “Plug and Chug’ for any equation. replace a variable.

  7. Maureen at 6:56 am

    This article is not for those of us who are living our lifetime in despair with pain.
    These therapies are most likely to ‘possibly’ help those with ‘non-chronic’ back pain conditions of which, in my opinion are…
    as in ‘let’s nip it in the bud’ asap, and as in ‘pre-surgery’ conditions, and as in ‘younger folks with a minor back injury’.
    My opinion comes from my own experiences.

    When I initially injured my spine 27 years ago, at age 36, from lifting a patient,
    I went on to have plenty of PT, but continued to get worse.
    One year later, due to increased pain I ‘cried uncle’ and gave in to surgery…
    I was very ignorant about it all then and followed my doctors’ lead.
    I had an L4,5 anterior/posterior fusion. It was a 2 yr. recovery time for me.
    As a few years went by I got into yoga for the stretching aspect. I loved yoga!
    I also walked 12 miles/week. I now attribute that to my ‘younger’ age then.
    Also, I was a single mom and ‘just had to maintain an income and get back to work’.
    So, I worked hard at it, but it began my journey with Chronic Pain.
    I’ve never had a painless day since that injury in 1990. 🙁
    Fast forward…I had life changing injuries sustained in an auto accident (not my fault) in 2004 and I went on to have another fusion, with hardware this time, (was still very naive about it all) and then had 2 more surgeries after that over 6 yrs time. I had become disabled and lost my career that I was passionate about.
    During those years I had plenty more PT and then eventually tried (gentle) yoga again about 8 yrs ago.
    I could not do it! I tried and tried but it always brought on more pain. More tears. No matter how easy I was on myself.
    I learned that I could no longer do any stretching. I still can’t. Due to the trauma and many surgeries I have developed FM/CFS. Life has become even tougher.
    But, again I tried a ‘yoga for Chronic pain’ 10 week class just last year (for $200)! I’m always hopeful!
    All 6 chronic pain women in the class had difficulty and experienced increased pain brought on by our instruction and by the end of the season we had taught our instructor an awful lot about folks with chronic pain that she had no idea of!! Bottom line, she really didn’t understand ‘chronic pain’ at all.
    3 of us actually cried after the 1st class (myself included).
    We gave it our all and then we hurt so very badly.
    She had to completely restructure her teachings to where we were mainly just sitting or lying on pillows and doing breathing and meditation and nothing physical. I learned soooo much more about my own body at that time. Disappointedly so, but a good enough lesson.
    Fast forward, at this point in my journey, I can rarely go take a walk.
    Chronic pain is an awful disease/condition.
    Chronic pain is perplexing. Chronic pain is ravaging.
    Chronic pain sucks the life out of you. Chronic pain is ever consuming and exhausting. Chronic pain controls your every day. Your every moment.
    I’ve tried hard, but I just can’t beat it.
    We are blessed if we can shower and dress.
    I’ve given all therapies my best shot. Believe me! It has come to be only about survival. Especially since we are now under-medicated.
    Yet, I still remain hopeful. God and hope are my lifeline.
    Oh, and yes, getting the meds that I can still get, for now.
    I couldn’t survive without them. I’ve tried.