VA Study Shows Yoga Helps Veterans’ Back Pain

VA Study Shows Yoga Helps Veterans’ Back Pain

By Staff. 

The Veterans Affairs Research Communications conducted a study to look at the effects yoga has on chronic low back pain specifically in military veterans.  The study included 150 military veterans diagnosed with chronic low back pain.

Dr. Erik J. Groessl and his team from the VA San Diego Healthcare System found that veterans who completed a 12-week yoga program had better scores on a disability questionnaire, improved pain intensity scores, and a decline in opioid use.

The findings of Dr. Groessl’s study were published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine on July 20, 2017.

The study shows promise for non-drug treatment of chronic low back pain, said Groessl.

“To be able to reduce the reliance upon opioids and other medications with side effects, it is crucial to establish evidence showing mind-body practices like yoga provide benefit in both veterans and non-veterans with chronic pain,” Dr. Groessl said.

Veterans in the study who were randomized to the yoga group attended a 12-week yoga program immediately after randomization. Comparison participants were invited to attend the yoga intervention only after six months.

The 12-week yoga intervention consisted of two 60-minute instructor-led yoga sessions per week, with home practice sessions encouraged. The intervention was based on hatha yoga, which involves yoga postures and movement sequences, along with regulated breathing and mindfulness meditation.

Outcomes were assessed at the baseline, six weeks, 12 weeks and six months.

Both study groups had reductions in disability scores after 12 weeks. However, notable differences emerged at the six-month assessment, with scores continuing to drop in the yoga group but increasing in the delayed-treatment group.

Along with those improvements, pain intensity decreased in the yoga group at all three time periods, while the delayed-treatment group had negligible changes.

There was also a 20 percent drop in opioid pain medication use at 12 weeks in both groups as determined through self-report questionnaires and a review of medical records.

Notably, reductions in disability and pain intensity were found despite the reductions in opioid use and other medical and self-help pain treatments at six months.

The trial confirms the findings of two prior randomized controlled trials with non-veterans showing that yoga is safe and can reduce pain and disability among adults with chronic low back pain.

The study is one of the first to demonstrate the effectiveness of yoga specifically in military veterans, a population that faces more health challenges and may be harder to treat than non-VA populations, say the researchers. They point out that as with other non-drug treatments for chronic low back pain, yoga may not help everyone or may not completely eliminate chronic low back pain, but reduced pain and disability can often be maintained long-term with ongoing yoga home practice.

Military veterans and active duty military personnel have higher rates of chronic pain than the general U.S. population, and the back is the area of the body that is most commonly affected. In addition to pain, those with the condition also report increased disability, psychological symptoms, and reduced quality of life. In the U.S., chronic low back pain is the leading cause of lost productivity and the second most common cause for physician visits. Billions of dollars are spent each year in the U.S. on health care related to back pain.

The team says that given the results of their study, VA facilities nationwide may want to consider developing and expanding formal yoga programs to help veterans with back pain. Many VA facilities already do offer yoga classes, along with other complementary and integrative health programs.

Subscribe to our blog via email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Authored by: Staff

newest oldest
Notify of
R. Michael Maddox/ US Navy SEABEE- Disabled and scared

This study is both misleading and BS. Sure maybe it helps a “SORE BACK” which usually consists of muscle pain. It has NO EFFECT on Nerve Damage. It has NO effect on Busted Vertabrea. This is nothing more than MORE VA manipulated results to make the ordinary CIVILIAN American think the VA is doing RIGHT by us Vets. I have had Neurosurgeons tell me NO PT. I have no bone, to speak of, in my neck. They had to put a Titanium plate in due to the CRUMBLING of my spine. Which caused pieces of bone piercing my spinal sac and nearly my spinal cord. They had a hard time finding a place to anchor the screws. They sent me out to Civilian surgeon, they KNEW they wanted no part of it. The surgeon had to try to get neck as stable as possible before starting on low back. My VA doc put me in for MRI 2 months ago. Which is procedure before surgery. Needless to say, STILL WAITING. Took 2 and a half years to get my neck done. I overheard surgeon telling his PA that I was lucky to not be a Parapalegic. Due to neck.I am 60 yo and been on pain meds for over 25 years. I do right by them, I give my Urine drug test every 6 months. And I’m the bad guy in the publics eyes. Once upon a time I would never wish this pain on anyone. These days I wish it on all these anti pain med people. Just 24 to 48 hours worth. I bet 99% would be screaming for medication. Just like everything, NOTHING works for all. Each of us are individuals. I love Marijuana. But had to give it up, or lose my medications. Many say it helps there pain. It doesn’t mine. We are all different. The sooner the whole of this issue understand that, the better we ALL will be. PEACE!

Yoga is a major source of health benefits. It helps to recover from back pain, other serious diseases, chronic pain and Depression. I also find myself stressed with various life issue and it greatly helped me to come out of stress. It can also be used as senior care home treatment as Yoga can be also practised by the senior citizen. There is a certain exercise which should be prohibited for a senior citizen.

” Back Pain ” it’s a term that’s now overused & has no specific meaning.

Yoga helps back and core muscles - all stretching does. Insert BACK PAIN & VETS now those words grab the attention of the uninformed.

I’m getting cynical as my TAPERING has caused increased pain & Spasticity along with falls and bruises plus a nice cut over my eye from a header into the corner of the closet wall.

Physical Therapy has always been used for relief of Chronic Pain. I use it everyday along with the PT I get from my Chiropractor @ 90 visits a year. Still, all of that does little to help reduce my pain level.

So far nothing new has been introduced that helps with Severe Chronic Pain. Yoga is STRETCHING!

John S

Yep Yoga or any / all forms of exercise help fight pain & we all know that : Thank you VA !

Problem is - when you take a Vet that suffered a severe Combat wound in say 1968 and that Vet has lived a productive life for nearly 50 years using minimal Opiate treatment. Then one day that Vet is told ” Look dude No More Pain pills ” ” we - the VA know you are better off doing Yoga or using Acupuncture to relieve pain ” - you even get a Toolbox for your IPhone.

Now you have a Vet that is LOST & Mad as hell. No IPhone and no way to get to Yoga class. The result is : 23 to 25 suicide deaths every day.

The VA’s new program will never work for most Vets - it can’t and never will. How do you tell a Vet that watched his platoon get wiped out and left him with no legs and constant pain ” we want you to use Yoga and trash those pills you’ve taken for 45 years.”

It’s a nice thought but it’s just not realistic for the aging Vet.

Ask me - It’s insulting and needs to stop. I’ve watched one of my 2 sons ( USMC ) Combat wounds 80% disabled with PTSD and a body that’s broken in several places. He will never be fixed using Yoga or Acupuncture and a TENS unit. Stop thinking like a ” Study Group ” and use your heads - never happen - when the VA feels it’s got the cure for the drug issues.

How many Vets must die at their own hands ? When will the VA realize that they can’t fix a problem by getting rid of what works for most by adding PT and a phone App.

Sad to see how our government is so out of touch with a problem. I can’t think about this it’s just too personal for me and I’m tired of it.


John S


Anything that proves to reduce back pain for our warriors is a big YES for me!

I do have some questions about the studies that are of interest to me.

When the phrase “chronic back pain” is spoken, what are the various back conditions that were helped by the yoga? How many of each type of condition were in the study?

Back pain covers many conditions and it would be so helpful to know those pieces of the puzzle. (For myself selfishly)

Thanks! It’s always wonderful to hear potentially really good news for both pain reduction for those who are able to get it, and doubly so for our warriors!