Study Finds Yoga Cost-Effective for Treating Back Pain

Group yoga classes are a cost-effective way to treat chronic low back pain, according to a new study by British researchers.

Researchers at the University of York studied two groups of people who had chronic or recurring back pain. One group of 156 people were offered group yoga classes specially designed to improve back function, while a second control group of 157 people only received care from a general practitioner. Both groups received the usual care from a doctor, which could include referral to pain clinics, physical therapy or prescriptions for painkillers.

Researchers found that patients in the yoga group took fewer days off from work than those in the control group. On average, a control group participant reported missing 12 days of work due to back pain, while those in the yoga group took four days off. The cost associated with missing work was about $1,886 for a control group member, compared with $587 for a yoga group member.

The study was conducted, in part, to determine whether yoga should be covered as a medical treatment by the UK’s National Health Service (NHS).  Yoga classes are not currently available through the NHS.

“Back pain represents a significant burden to the NHS in the UK and to society as a whole. As well as the associated health care costs, it is also a major cause of work absenteeism which leads to a productivity loss to society,” said lead investigator David Torgerson of the University o f York’s Department of Health Sciences. “”While yoga has been shown as an effective intervention for treating chronic and low back pain, until now there has been little evidence on its cost effectiveness.”

The study, which is being published in the journal Spine, recommends 12 weekly group classes of a specialized yoga program called “Yoga for Healthy Lower Backs.” The researchers concluded that if the NHS were to offer specialized yoga and keep the cost below $470 per patient (for 12 weeks of classes), there is a high probability the yoga intervention would be cost effective.

The study was carried out by researchers from the University of York’s Department of Health Sciences and the Centre for Health Economics, and the Hull York Medical School. Funding for the study came from Arthritis ResearchUK.

“We’d hope that on the back of this, more people with back pain are encouraged to take up the yoga program,” said Alan Silman, Medical Director of Arthritis Research UK. “We welcome the fact that not only has yoga been found to help people manage their back pain, but that it is also cost effective, and results in fewer sick days. It is another option for people who are struggling to manage their condition, and one that encourages the move to self-management.”

The 12-week yoga program was designed by Alison Trewhela, a yoga teacher and senior practitioner in Yoga on the British Register of Complementary Practitioners, in collaboration with yoga teacher Anna Semlyen, a Back Care Advisor to the British Wheel of Yoga.

A video of the class can be seen below:

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