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Exercise & Fitness for Senior Citizens

Stretching Program or with Yoga Relieves Chronic Back Pain; Self-Help Book Fails

Suggests yoga's benefits largely due to physical benefits of stretching and strengthening the muscles - not its mental components

Oct. 24, 2011 - It’s hardly surprising that yoga and stretching classes were more effective than handing folks a book on self-care for patients with chronic low back pain. What may surprise many is that stretching and yoga produced about the same results in reducing symptoms and improving function. But, the progress with yoga is probably from stretching, not the mental exercise.

"There were no statistically or clinically significant differences between the yoga and stretching groups" at any time point, the authors report in this a study published Online First by the Archives of Internal Medicine.

"We found that physical activity involving stretching, regardless of whether it is achieved using yoga or more conventional exercises, has moderate benefits in individuals with moderately impairing low back pain.


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“Finding similar effects for both approaches suggests that yoga's benefits were largely attributable to the physical benefits of stretching and strengthening the muscles and not to its mental components."

The benefits of these approaches may last several months, the authors conclude.

Karen J. Sherman, Ph.D., M.P.H., from Group Health Research Institute, Seattle, and colleagues noted before their study, "Despite the availability of numerous treatments for chronic back pain, none have proven highly effective, and few have been evaluated for cost-effectiveness."

"Self-management strategies, like exercise, are particularly appealing because they are relatively safe, inexpensive, and accessible and may have beneficial effects on health beyond those for back pain.

“One form of exercise with at least 'fair' evidence for effectiveness for back pain is yoga, which might be an especially promising form of exercise because it includes a mental component that could enhance the benefits of its physical components."

They designed a study to determine whether yoga is more effective than conventional stretching exercises or a self-care book for primary care patients with chronic low back pain.

A total of 228 adults with chronic low back pain were assigned to -  
   ● 12 weekly yoga classes (92 patients) or
   ● conventional stretching exercise classes (91 patients), or
   ● a self-care book that provided information on causes of back pain and advice on exercising, lifestyle modifications and managing flare-ups (45 patients).

The main outcomes measured were back-related functional status and how much the back pain was bothering the patients. Telephone interviews were conducted at the beginning of the study, and at six, 12, and 26 weeks after being divided into the study groups.

"Back-related dysfunction declined over time in all groups," the authors report. Compared with the self-care group, the yoga group reported superior function at 12 and 26 weeks (average difference, -2.5 and -1.8, respectively) and the stretching group reported superior function at six, 12 and 26 weeks (-1.7, -2.2, -1.5, respectively).

The study was funded by a cooperative agreement with the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM).


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