Handling Back Pain: Yoga vs Stretching

Reuters reports here on a study that has just been published (Oct 24) in the Archives of Internal Medicine. They wanted to see which was best for back pain; yoga or stretching, and did this with a study involving over 200 adults with lower back pain. Chronic lower back pain is a common problem and yet today we do not have highly effective treatment options, so they were curious to see if yoga was more effective than conventional stretching exercises or a self-care book.

Why does this interest me?

I suspect you can guess, I have some lower back pain (right now … ouch), and so while attending Dr Google’s clinic for some self-diagnosis, I came across this study. Having once dabbled in Yoga at one time, I was curious to see what the outcome was.

So what exactly did they do?

They took 228 adults who all (obviously) have chronic low back pain, then randomly split them up into one of the following three groups as follows

  1. 92 patients attended 12 weekly classes of yoga
  2. 91 patients attended conventional stretching exercises
  3. The remaining 45 patients were given a self-care book

They then measured them all using a back-related functional Questionnaire (a 23-point scale) and also asked about pain using an 11-point scale. This was done at the start, and then repeated at various points in time such as 6, 12 and 26 weeks in. Also, those doing the interviews where not told what this was about or who was in which group to ensure that they would not be biased.

So what did they discover?

Basically, that you should go for the stretching exercises and skip both the self-help and Yoga.

Yoga was better than a self-help book, but was not as effective as the stretching exercises. This study not only considered improved function and symptom reduction, but also looked to see if the benefits lasted for at least several months.

And so that’s it then, given that Yoga was not superior to conventional stretching exercises at any point in time, my Yoga books can go into the bin. Also, as my back is reminding me right now, its time to start some stretching.



The Archives of Internal Medicine is a peer-reviewed medical journal published twice a month by the American Medical Association. The Archives of Internal Medicine was established in 1908 and covers all aspects of internal medicine, including cardiovascular disease, geriatrics, infectious disease, gastroenterology, endocrinology, allergy, and immunology. The editor in chief is Rita F. Redberg (University of California San Francisco School of Medicine).

According to the Journal Citation Reports, the journal’s 2009 impact factor is 9.813, ranking it 8th out of 133 journals in the category “Medicine, General & Internal”.

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