Two large studies have underscored the benefits of yoga for people suffering from low back pain. 

In one project, 313 adults in the United Kingdom with chronic or recurrent low back pain received an education booklet, after which 156 were randomized to a 12-class, three-month yoga program; the remaining participants were deemed the usual-care group. 

Participation in the yoga program led to greater improvements in back function than did usual care (Ann Intern Med. 2011;155:569-578). Compared with the usual-care group, the adjusted mean Roland-Morris Disability Questionnaire score was 2.17 points lower in the yoga group at three months, 1.48 points lower at six months, and 1.57 points lower at 12 months. 

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The two groups had similar scores on back pain and general health at all three points. The yoga participants had higher pain self-efficacy scores at three and six months, but not at 12 months. Adverse events — mostly increased pain — were reported by 12 of the 156 yoga patients and two of the 157 usual-care members. 

In a similar randomized trial, this one taking place in the United States, 228 adults with chronic low back pain were also randomized to 12 weekly classes of yoga, conventional stretching exercises or a self-care book. 

Karen J. Sherman, PhD, MPH, and colleagues affirmed in Archives of Internal Medicine that after adjustment for baseline values, 12-week outcomes for the yoga group were superior to those for the self-care group in terms of improving function and reducing symptoms due to chronic low back pain and remained so at the 26-week mark. However, yoga was not superior to conventional stretching exercises at any time point.