Yoga Shown to Have Clinical Benefits in Low Back Pain

A new study from the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences (USU) reported “clinically meaningful” improvements in patients with low back pain (LBP) after an eight-week yoga program.

Researchers in the RESTORE (Restorative Exercise and Strength Training for Operational Resilience and Excellence) program, a pilot randomized controlled trial, recruited participants from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, in Bethesda, Md. (Arch Phys Med Rehabil 2018;99[1]:91-98). The 68 patients were asked to report their pain level at one, four and eight weeks and at six-month follow-up of the yoga program.

According to the study authors, participants reported clinically meaningful improvements in past 24-hour pain, disability, physical functioning and symptom burden while they were in the program. Moreover, “a higher proportion of RESTORE participants reported clinically meaningful changes in all outcomes at three-month follow-up and in symptom burden at six-month follow-up [compared to controls].”

According to lead author Krista Highland, PhD, a senior scientist at the USU Henry M. Jackson Foundation for the Advancement of Military Medicine, the benefits of the program were most evident while participation was occurring. “When it ended at eight weeks, we saw symptom levels return to baseline.”

“What this study points out is the biopsychosocial experience of pain,” said Chester Buckenmaier III, MD, the director of the USU Defense & Veterans Center for Integrative Pain Management, and a study author. “Those parameters got better much faster in the group exposed to yoga than the group exposed to [standardized care].”

Dr. Highland said the study’s small sample size limited the findings to preliminary status. “With an adequate sample size, we can start to understand what types of patient-related factors lend themselves to one treatment over the other—anything from pain catastrophizing to social support to physical functioning at baseline.”

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