yoga-1507398_1920Lower back pain is a common problem, and is usually treated with self-care and over-the-counter medication. For some people, however, the pain persists for more than three months, and is therefore considered chronic. Back pain is sometimes associated with a disease or condition, but the vast majority of cases have an unknown cause.

Current guidelines state that exercise therapy may be beneficial, and in particular yoga, is sometimes used as a treatment. A review by the Cochrane Complementary Medicine at the Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Maryland, published in the Cochrane Library, suggests that yoga may lead to a small reduction in pain in people with chronic non-specific lower back pain over the short-term.

Yoga has gained global popularity as a form of mind-body exercise, with general lifestyle benefits, and recent studies have investigated the potential of yoga to relieve the symptoms of lower back related problems. The review, led by author Susan Wieland from Cochrane, summarizes the results of 12 randomized trials from 1,080 men and women with an average age between 34 and 48 years old. The trials were conducted in India, the UK, and the U.S. All participants had chronic non-specific lower back pain.

Researchers compared individuals practicing yoga in a class to those not doing any back-focused exercise. Five studies compared yoga with back-focused exercise, or added yoga to a back-focused exercise program. All yoga interventions used were specifically designed for treatment of lower back pain, and were provided by experienced and qualified teachers.

They found that compared to individuals who did not exercise, those who practiced yoga were able to improve back-related function and reduce symptoms of lower back pain. However, larger and more robust studies are needed to draw any firm conclusions about the long-term health benefits of yoga.

The research team also found limited evidence that, compared with not doing any physical exercise, yoga can lead to some improvement in back function after six months and a small reduction in pain after three months. The longer term effects of yoga on lower back pain are less certain, because there were few studies that looked at follow-up after 12 months, researchers say.

Back pain affects eight in ten people, and suggested solutions,  from prescription pain relievers to over-the-counter measures, are often only temporary. While more studies will be required to prove yoga’s effectiveness on reducing back pain in the long-term, click here to review some spine stabilizing exercises to reduce back pain right now.