Namaste = less chronic back pain?

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Yoga and stretching may provide an effective method of reducing the symptoms of lower back pain, suggest two recent studies.

While previous research has provided some evidence that yoga could alleviate chronic lower back pain, these studies had small sample sizes, short follow-up periods, or other shortcomings. The two new studies, however, followed larger numbers of people over longer periods of time, lending further evidence to the possibility that practicing yoga may improve back pain.

The first study, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, followed over 300 patients with chronic or recurrent lower back pain for one year. Those in the group receiving weekly yoga classes for three months reported better back function than those who received only an educational booklet and their usual care. This improvement in function continued throughout the 12 months of the study.

The second study, in The Archives of Internal Medicine, similarly followed 200 individuals, all with chronic lower back pain, over the course of 26 weeks. Those in a control group received only a book on back pain management, while the subjects in the other two groups participated in either weekly yoga classes or weekly intensive stretching classes for 12 weeks. Compared to the control group, those in the yoga and stretching groups reported that they were bothered less by back pain symptoms, had better back function, and had less difficulty completing tasks. Again, these improvements continued for the entire duration of the study.

Chronic back pain is one of the most common ailments that brings adults to the doctor, affecting millions nationwide. With no long-term cure for chronic or recurrent back pain, Americans spend billions of dollars each year on medication, physical therapy, and other treatments. Often, these people resort to surgery, which may leave them worse off than before. These new studies suggest that yoga and intensive stretching could provide a low-cost and effective means of keeping back pain symptoms under control.