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Yoga may be best to ease back pain



Session on the yoga mat may be best to ease a bad back

By Henry Bodkin

With its catalogue of headstands and one-legged contortions, it might be thought yoga was best left to those of us who are in peak physical condition. However, new research suggests the group of people who could most benefit from adopting the lotus position is those who are immobilised by pain.

Analysis of more than 1,000 adults with long-term lower-back pain found those who practised yoga were most likely to reduce pain and improve mobility. The findings, from researchers in the US, add weight to calls for GPs in Britain to prescribe yoga sessions to ease long-term discomfort.

Back pain causes more disability than any other condition and affects almost one in 10 Britons, becoming more common with age. Because the causes are hard to isolate it is difficult to treat and  patients commonly resort to long-term use of strong painkillers.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) guidelines instruct doctors to consider recommending various aerobic and biomechanical exercises, but there is currently no specific mention of yoga. However, the new analysis of 12 academic studies from the UK, the US and India suggests yoga, as distinct from traditional back exercises, could yield the best results.

The scientists behind the new research are now calling for fresh longer-term trials to understand the full benefits for patients with persistent back pain, as the existing data only relates to benefits after six to 12 months.

Lead author Susan Wieland, from the University of Maryland School of Medicine, said: “Our findings suggest that yoga exercise may lead to reducing the symptoms of lower back pain by a small amount, but the results have come from studies with a short follow-up. At the moment we only have low- to moderate-quality evidence for the effects of yoga, before six months, as a type of exercise for helping people with chronic back pain.”

The patients involved in the studies analysed by Dr Wieland had all been enrolled on yoga courses that were designed for their conditions and provided by qualified teachers.

However, the British yoga community is currently riven with uncharacteristic disharmony amid a debate over whether or not to regulate yoga teachers following a series of injuries after students were reportedly encouraged to adopt dangerous positions.

Although yoga teachers who practise in gyms and leisure centres currently have to join the register of exercise professionals, anyone can set themselves up as a private instructor.

“The yoga exercises practised in the studies we reviewed were developed for lower back pain and people should also remember that in each of the studies the classes were led by experienced practitioners,” Dr Wieland said.

She also warned that one in 20 participants (50 patients) actually reported their back pain getting worse after starting a course of yoga.

Derived from a Sanskrit word, yoga aims to “coordinate the breath, mind and body to encourage balance, both internally and externally,” says the British Wheel of Yoga.

But despite its widely acknowledged benefits, it is not considered strenuous enough to count towards the Government-recommended minimum weekly exercise target of 150 minutes of activity, according to the NHS.

However, it is being recommended to elderly people to help prevent the risk of falls.

Published originally in the Daily Telegraph: Session on the yoga mat may be best to ease a bad back

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