THE QUESTION Might the physical and mental aspects of yoga help people with chronic back pain?

THIS STUDY involved 313 adults, mostly women, who averaged 46 years old and who had had back pain for an average of 10 years. They were randomly assigned to take a once-a-week, 75-minute gentle yoga class or to continue with regular care through their physicians. All participants were given educational material on back pain; the yoga group also received handouts and a CD to help practice yoga stretches and mental relaxation at home. When the classes ended after three months, as well as when participants were evaluated nine months later, little difference overall was found in back pain levels between those who had practiced yoga and those who had not, although 8 percent of the yoga group, vs. 1 percent of the others, noted some increased pain. However, yoga participants on average reported better functioning of their backs, allowing participation in 30 percent more activities than the others and the ability to walk more quickly, stand for a longer time and get dressed without help.

WHO MAY BE AFFECTED? People with back pain. In a three-month period, back pain strikes an estimated one of four U.S. adults. Most back pain goes away on its own, but pain accompanied by numbness or weakness and pain that lingers may require treatment. Back pain that lasts three months or more is considered chronic.

CAVEATS Data on pain and functioning came from the participants’ responses on questionnaires. Yoga instructors were given extra training in back care. The study did not compare yoga with other types of exercise.

FIND THIS STUDY Nov. 1 issue of Annals of Internal Medicine (

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Linda Searing

The research described in Quick Study comes from credible, peer-reviewed journals. Nonetheless, conclusive evidence about a treatment's effectiveness is rarely found in a single study. Anyone considering changing or beginning treatment of any kind should consult with a physician.