yoga + low back pain

why individuals with chronic low back pain may benefit from yoga!

People with chronic low-back pain are running rampant. I recently scoured research articles on the topic + how yoga may help. I was delighted to find that there’s an increasing amount of evidence out there that supports the idea of using yoga to heal. Here’s a little summary of everything I compiled!

Chronic low-back pain (CLBP) is the most common cause of lost work days & disability claims.1 Poor posture, excessive stress (physical & psychological), aging problems & mechanical damage may all contribute to back pain. 2 Several studies point to the role of a sedentary lifestyle that includes (1) mechanical factors such as prolonged poor postures leading to weakness of postural muscles and (2) chronic muscle spasm resulting from psychological stress in the etiology of CLBP. 2 In a quality of life study done on patients with CLBP, it was found that they presented with high stress levels with a negative correlation with quality of life.3

Exercise is one of the few proven treatments for CLBP; however, its effects are often small, & no form has been shown to be clearly better than another.4 Yoga may benefit patients with back pain simply because it involves exercise or because of its effects on mental focus. Yoga combines exercise with achieving a state of mental focus through breathing. 4

Results suggest that yoga is an effective treatment for CLBP. One study saw that yoga was more effective than a self-care book for improving function & reducing CLBP, and the benefits persisted 14 weeks after the study was over and did not appear to be caused by co-interventions or medications. 4 Another study reported that intensive yoga-based lifestyle program reduced pain-related disability & improved spinal flexibility in patients with CLBP better than a physical exercise regimen. A similar study found that yoga increases quality of life & spinal flexibility better than exercises alone.3

There has been little research on the mechanisms by which yoga practice might relieve back pain. The practice of yoga places equal emphasis on mental focus as it does on the physical movement. The breath, which links the mind & the body, is considered to be the key to achieving both physical & psychological benefits. Yoga may be beneficial for back pain because it involves physical movement, but it may also exert benefits through its effects on mental focus. The mental focus induced by yoga can help people increase their awareness of how they move & position their body in maladaptive ways, to relax tense muscles, & to relieve mental stress.4

Many yoga classes may begin &/or end with breathing exercises because yogic breathing is a unique method for balancing the autonomic nervous system. Research done has shown that specific breathing exercises can have a relaxing effect on the sympathetic nervous system & thereby reduce stress levels.1 In order to gain additional stress-relieving benefits from this mind-body practice, make sure to allot enough time at the end for Savasana (deep relaxation pose).


1. Tekur P, Singphow C, Nagendra HR, Raghuram N. Effect of Short-Term Intensive Yoga Program on Pain, Functional Disability, and Spinal Flexibility in Chronic Low Back Pain: A Randomized Control Study. The journal of alternative and complementary medicine. 2008; 14: 637–644.

2. Integrated Yoga. Back pain. Available at: Accessed November 28, 2010.

3. Tekur P, Singphow C, Nagendra HR, Raghuram N. Effect of yoga on quality of life of CLBP patients: A randomized control study Int J Yoga. 2010; 3(1): 10–17.

4. Sherman KJ, Cherkin DC, Erro J, Miglioretti DL, Dey RA. Comparing Yoga, Exercise, and a Self-Care Book for Chronic Low Back Pain A Randomized, Controlled Study. Annals of Internal Medicine. December 2005; 143: 849-856.