A study in the September issue of Spine indicates the benefits of yoga as a treatment for back pain and confirms the importance of staying active when rehabilitating the spine and seeking pain relief, a point that may initially seem counterintuitive to patients but should not be lost.
In the study, 90 back pain sufferers (aged 23 to 66) were split into two groups, with one group performing 90-minutes of Iyengar yoga twice a week for six months and the other maintaining their regular treatment over that time period.
At both the third and six months, the yoga participants noted significant improvements in both pain and functioning, and were also less likely to be depressed. Pain levels were measured via questionnaires assessing the amount of pain medications being taken, difficulties performing certain tasks, and other metrics.
Previous studies have already noted how extensive yoga programs have resulted in improvements in strength, flexibility and endurance for patients with back pain and neck pain, and now this latest research seemingly adds more credence to the effectiveness of yoga and its emphasis on relaxation, flexibility and core strengthening as a treatment for these symptoms.
Types of Yoga for Chronic Pain
A combination of physical exercises, breathing exercises and meditation, yoga may appeal to people as a means to stay fit and relax, but it also has practical applications for treating chronic back pain and neck pain from a herniated disc, arthritis and other conditions.
Several types of yoga exist, with their applications often beneficial to certain types of patients. The following are just some examples of the different types of yoga:
- Iyengar yoga. Used in the aforementioned study, Iyengar yoga stresses proper alignment and precise movements yet incorporates modifications that often benefit back pain and neck pain patients whose mobility may be limited as a result of their symptoms.
- Ashtanga yoga. Emphasizing powerful flowing movements like push-ups and lunges, Ashtanga yoga is appropriately described as “power yoga” and often appeals to patients who have previously rehabilitated from a back injury.
- Bikram yoga. Performed in a hot room with the goal of stretching the tissues and increasing flexibility, Bikram yoga (also known as “hot yoga”) should not be performed by patients with cardiovascular disease.
- Viniyoga. Linking breathing and movement through flowing exercises, Viniyoga is easily adaptable for each person, making it a good option for many types of back pain and neck pain patients.
While the principles of yoga may still be foreign to many people, patients should keep an open mind when exploring treatment options. While exercise may prompt initial worries of exacerbating pain, such activities can often have wonderful therapeutic effects, not only physically but spiritually (as emphasized in yoga).
Exercise Treatments for Back Pain and Neck Pain
Even if a patient does not do yoga, they may participate in a program of neck or back exercises that incorporates stretching, strengthening and low-impact aerobic exercises.
Physical therapists, doctors of chiropractic, physiatrists and many other medical professionals may prescribe such programs, and are good sources to learn more about the benefits of physical activity – as opposed to immobility – for chronic pain sufferers.