Study Finds Yoga as Effective as PT for Pain


As the most common cause of long-term disability, chronic pain has become one of the most widespread conditions in America. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, pain affects more Americans than diabetes, heart disease and cancer combined.

This year, the CDC released new guidelines for the treatment of chronic pain in March 2016 in response to the related rise in opioid addictions. Instead of doctors prescribing drugs like hydrocodone and morphine, they should first have their patients try a non-drug route. The CDC has recommended that physical therapy, weight loss, cognitive behavioral therapy and certain interventional procedures should be attempted first.

A new study has revealed that yoga for lower back pain, the most common cause of short-term and chronic pain in the country, is, according to director of integrative medicine at Boston Medical Center, Mass., Robert B. Saper, MD: “nonferior to physical therapy for a diverse group of low-income patients.” The 320 adults chosen for this study all had chronic back pain “with no obvious anatomic cause, such as spinal stenosis.” Pain levels were high for all participants, with an average pain scale rating reaching 7.

To see the effectiveness of various treatments, the sample group was split into three sections, with one practicing yoga, one receiving physical therapy and one receiving education on their condition. The results of the study were remarkable.

Saper claimed that 48% of those who practiced yoga were able to get some relief from the practice and achieve a clinical response. Physical therapy received a 37% reduction in pain, and education received a 23% reduction.

What does this mean for the future of physical therapists treating chronic lower back pain? Yoga appears to be a more effective, cheaper and reduces the amount of medication taken by patients as effectively as physical therapy.

Since yoga “is actually superior” to physical therapy and “quite a bit” superior to education, according to the researchers, should physical therapists start incorporating the practice of yoga into their work?


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Katherine Bortz

1 Comment

  1. Allison Spratt on

    The statistics indicating that 48% of patients felt relief from practicing LBP is remarkable. I have had many patients that ask me about incorporating yoga into their current exercise regimens as well as once they discharge from outpatient PT. It is exciting to see much more research being conducted on the benefits of yoga, especially for those patients with chronic pain. Yoga provides increased flexibility, coordination, balance, and strength and many of the stretches and positions can easily be incorporated into PT. There are also many mental and psychosocial benefits associated with practicing yoga. I have given many patients yoga-inspired stretches to incorporate into their home exercise programs. I think as PT’s we should not ignore these benefits from yoga and aim to incorporate it more into our current regimens.

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