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Gentle yoga may soothe chronic back pain

People plagued by chronic lower backaches may find some relief in yoga class, researchers reported. Their study of 101 adults with persistent low back pain found that a gentle yoga class seemed to be a better alternative to either general exercise or a self-help book. Though people in the exercise class eventually improved to a similar degree as their yoga-practicing counterparts, yoga class brought quicker results.

It's possible that yoga's benefits for both the body and mind explain the effects on lower back pain, the study's lead author, Dr. Karen J. Sherman, said.

She stressed, though, that the study participants took a slower-moving form of yoga that was designed for people with lower back problems. Vigorous styles of yoga that include more-advanced poses could potentially make chronic back pain worse.

Sherman, a researcher at the Group Health Cooperative in Seattle, and her colleagues report the findings in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

It's estimated that 14 million Americans practice yoga, often as a way to treat chronic aches and pains. But, in the Western medical literature at least, there have been no published studies on the effects of yoga on chronic back pain, Sherman said.

To look at the question, she and her colleagues randomly assigned 101 adults to take either 12 weeks of yoga class or 12 weeks of a standard therapeutic exercise class, or to follow the advice of a self-care book.

The yoga class was conducted in what's known as the Viniyoga style, which goes by the philosophy that poses should be adapted to the individual's needs. The instructor was experienced in therapeutic yoga, and the class was limited to basic poses that would not put too much strain on the back, Sherman explained.

After 12 weeks, the yoga practitioners reported better back function than their peers in either of the other two groups. After another three months, those in the exercise group had improved to a similar degree as the yogis.


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