Yoga can be as helpful as physical therapy for relieving moderate back pain, according to a new study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine on July 18.

The research, conducted by Boston Medical Center, looked at 320 adults with chronic low back pain. Study participants were randomly assigned to one of three groups: yoga classes every week for three months, 15 visits with a physical therapist over three months, or education, which involved getting a back pain self-help book and mailed newsletters.

Physical therapy is an effective treatment that is often used for chronic low back pain. Yoga is a practice that involves physical poses, controlled breathing, and meditation. Although previous studies show that yoga is effective for treating low back pain, it is not clear how it compares with standard treatments for chronic low back pain that are covered by health insurance, such as physical therapy. This study aimed to answer these questions.

After three months, the yoga group attended more yoga sessions or practices at home for another nine months, according to the study. The physical therapy group had sessions with the physical therapist every two months or did physical therapy exercises at home for another nine months. The study participants answered questions about their level of back pain and physical limitations at baseline and 12 weeks. Researchers also monitored participants’ use of pain medications during the study, as well as satisfaction with treatment and quality of life.

Researchers found that yoga and physical therapy groups showed almost the same amount of improvement in pain and activity limitation over time, both immediately following the study and after one year. Yoga did not perform better than education in terms of pain or activity limitation at three months. However, participants in both the yoga and physical therapy groups were less likely to use pain medications at three months compared to the education group.

Other measurements, patient satisfaction and quality of life, were similar between the yoga and physical therapy groups. Further, a similar number of participants in the yoga and physical therapy groups reported mild joint pain and back pain as side effects of the treatment.

According to researchers, the study was limited in that participants knew what type of treatment they were receiving, and that they attended a low number of yoga or physical therapy sessions. Participants in the yoga and physical therapy groups showed similar improvements in levels of pain and activity limitations. However, the researchers remained confident that yoga may be another reasonable option for treating chronic low back pain.