Can Yoga Help My Pain? What Does The Research Say?

Yoga is something I commonly recommend to my patients as part of their overall maintenance/preventative plan. The reason: research suggests yoga may be effective for a wide variety of conditions, such as arthritis, chronic low back pain, and fibromyalgia. ┬áLet’s take a look at some of the most recent findings.

Low Back Pain: A systematic review by Crow, et al. (2015), found there was strong evidence for the short-term effectiveness for yoga. However, there was little evidence for long-term effectiveness for chronic spine pain. The type of yoga reviewed in this study was the Iyengar yoga method.

Iyengar yoga also was examined in a randomized, controlled study by Nambi GS, et al. (2014). They compared yoga therapy to conventional exercise therapy on pain intensity and health-related quality of life in subjects with nonspecific, chronic low back pain. Results showed Iyengar yoga provides better improvements in pain reduction and improvement in health-related quality-of-life measurements.

Muscle Activation: A recent study by Ni M, et. al. (2014), sheds some light on muscle function during various poses. “High plank,” “low plank” and “downward facing dog” were effective for strengthening the external oblique abdominis. “Chair” and “warrior 1” poses were useful for the gluteus maximus, and chair and “halfway lift” poses were effective for strengthening the longissimus thoracis. The “upward facing dog” pose can be used to strengthen all three muscles.

Arthritis: Although the average yoga user is younger than older, yoga may be beneficial for those with arthritis. A recent study by Moonaz SH, et al. (2015), assessed integral-based hatha yoga in sedentary people with arthritis. Preliminary evidence suggested yoga can be practiced safely and improves physical and psychological health, including health-related quality of life. Ghasemi GA, et al. (2013), also found yoga significantly reduced pain and symptoms in a group of women with osteoarthritis.

Which yoga exercises provide the best muscle activation for knee strengthening in patients with osteoarthritis? Longpre HS, et al. (2015), assessed various yoga postures, finding quadriceps activation was highest during the squat and lunge postures, producing more co-contraction indices than other postures. The wide-legged squat (“goddess”) and lunge with trunk upright (“warrior”) poses produced the lowest knee adduction moments, which may benefit those with knee osteoarthritis.

Flexibility: For flexibility training, yoga was shown to be more effective than calisthenics. Farinatti PT, et al. (2014), used hatha yoga for the study, which features slow, passive movements.

Spinal flexibility is also shown to improve with yoga use. Grabara M, et al. (2015), assessed the effects of hatha yoga for women older than age 50. Results demonstrated not only increased hamstring flexibility, but also overall spinal flexibility.


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