Yoga is one of the nondrug, nonsurgical therapies that has been shown to benefit back pain. In 2005 a study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that a yoga program was more effective in treating low back pain than another exercise regimen or educating yourself about proper back care. In October 2007 the American College of Physicians and the American Pain Society released guidelines that recommend therapies that include massage, Viniyoga (a gentle, therapeutic yoga style), acupuncture, and spinal manipulation for persistent back pain.
According to Timothy McCall, MD, the medical editor of Yoga Journal, yoga can enable patients to do the following.
- Strengthen weak muscles
- Increase flexibility
- Improve oxygenation to body tissue
- Shift the balance of the autonomic nervous system from the sympathetic "fight or flight" response to the parasympathetic "rest and digest" state
All of those changes can help support the musculoskeletal system and bring pain relief, but beyond those physical improvements, Dr. McCall believes that the greatest benefit yoga can provide to patients is in their mind.
"In yoga there is a difference between pain and suffering. Pain is often caused by physical things, but the mind fuels the fires of suffering by thinking about it and coming to negative conclusions, which activates your stress response system," says Dr. McCall. "When you do meditation or breathing practices, you start to see the role that the mind plays. Advanced meditators can modulate their pain. They know the pain is there, but they don't react to it the same way."