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Daily Wisdom: Yoga As Therapy

The ancient practice can be a great supplement to physical therapy.

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TODAY'S TOPIC: WHEN TO TREAT BACK PAIN WITH YOGA

THE SCIENCE

A recent study in Annals of Internal Medicine showed that yoga may be as effective as physical therapy in reducing back pain. Participants were randomly assigned to do either yoga or physical therapy. Researchers found that roughly half of the people in both groups showed reduced pain. However, by the end of the 12-week study, more people in the physical therapy group dropped out.
EXPERT INSIGHT

"A key reason yoga works for back pain is that its movements increase blood flow and nutrient delivery to the tissues," says Matt Berenc, director of education of the Equinox Fitness Training Institute. "This can help speed recovery as long as you are not engaging in activity that offends the original issue. Another key benefit of yoga is the mobilization of the hips and the stabilization of the lumbar spine and low back."

“The lower drop-out rate is likely because of the social, group experience of yoga,” explains Berenc. "Working toward a goal along with others is powerful and creates a sense of community so people are less likely to quit.” 

But Berenc cautions against equating yoga to physical therapy: “Physical therapists create a treatment strategy based on the unique needs of the patient,” he says. “One should always work with a trained health professional first to ensure proper diagnosis of what is causing the pain. Without knowing exactly what area of the back is injured, some yoga poses could actually increase the discomfort," he adds.

THE BOTTOM LINE

"Depending on the individual, yoga can be a great supplement to PT for back pain," says Berenc. "Some of the more common poses that might be helpful in the management of low back pain are plank, table (hands and knees), bird-dog (often called sunbird), warrior 1 and 2, low warrior 1, and shavasana. The common theme with these poses is that they focus on either building back strength or providing a stretch in the hips and trunk/core, which support the low back,” notes Berenc. 



Researchers found that roughly half the participants in both yoga and physical therapy showed reduced pain. However, by the end of the study, more people in the physical therapy group dropped out of the study. 
Researchers found that roughly half the participants in both yoga and physical therapy showed reduced pain. However, by the end of the study, more people in the physical therapy group dropped out of the study.