Yoga may help reduce pain and functional ability in people with chronic non-specific lower back pain over the short term, compared with no exercise, according a recent Cochrane Review.

Published in the Cochrane Library, the study summarized the results of 12 randomized trials that included 1,080 men and women, average age between 34 and 48 years, all of whom experienced chronic non-specific lower back pain. The trails were conducted in India, the UK, and the US.

Studies included in the Review included those that compared practicing yoga in a class to not doing any back-focused exercise, or to other forms of exercise. Seven studies compared yoga with no exercise, three studies compared yoga with back-focused exercise, or added yoga for a back-focused exercise program. Two studies compared yoga with no exercise or a self-care book. All yoga interventions used were specifically designed for treatment of lower back pain, and were provided by experienced and qualified teachers, notes a media release from Wiley.

According to the Review, researchers suggest that, compared to no exercise, practicing yoga may help improve back-related function and may also reduce symptoms of back pain by a small amount in the first 6 to 12 months. However, the researchers add that this effect is consistently less than that judged to be clinically important, and larger and more robust studies with longer follow-up will be needed to draw any firm conclusions about the long-term health effects of yoga.

A concern from this study, per the release, is that yoga could cause an increase in back pain in some people. Researchers state that about 5% more yoga participants experienced increased back pain, but note that this may be similar to the risk of having side effects from other back-focused exercise.

“Our findings suggest that yoga exercise may lead to reducing the symptoms of lower back pain by a small amount, but the results have come from studies with a short follow-up. At the moment we only have low to moderate-quality evidence for the effects of yoga before 6 months as a type of exercise for helping people with chronic lower back pain,” says lead author Susan Wieland, from Cochrane Complementary Medicine at the Center for Integrative Medicine, University of Maryland School of Medicine, in the release.

“The yoga exercises practiced in the studies were developed for low back pain, and people should also remember that in each of the studies we reviewed, the yoga classes were led by experienced practitioners. The findings of this Cochrane Review will help people make more informed choices about their future treatment options,” she adds.

[Source(s): Wiley, Science Daily]