Hail yoga, stretching

Better option than modern medicine for back pain

By Sugandh Juneja
Published: Wednesday 30 November 2011

imageTARUNA Kalra, 26, developed back pain five years ago. After unfruitful visits to the doctor, she turned to yoga. In three weeks she was absolutely fit.

Kalra’s experience has been validated by K J Sherman of the Group Health Research Institute in Seattle, Washington. Sherman led a study that looked at yoga’s effectiveness in treating chronic back pain. “Modern medicine does not have much to offer to people with chronic back pain since the source of the pain cannot be clearly identified,” she says. For people with moderate pain, yoga is a viable part of the therapeutic options, she asserts.

For the study, published in the journal Archives of Internal Medicine on October 24, researchers examined 228 adults with chronic back pain. Ninety two adults were subjected to a series of 12 weekly yoga classes, 91 were assigned 12 weekly stretching classes and 45 adults were given a self-care book. “We looked at common outcomes, like how well people were able to perform their activities of daily living and how bothered they were by the pain,” explains Sherman. The yoga group showed significant improvement compared to the self-care book group. However, at no time the yoga group exhibited better results than the stretching exercises group. Benefits persisted for 14 weeks after classes ended.

“Yoga and stretching have clinically superior benefits to self-care in addition to the care people with chronic back pain are already receiving,” says Sherman. The study suggests that yoga can be helpful on the whole, she adds.

The special form of yoga used in the study was “viniyoga”. Viniyoga or hatha yoga is a branch of yoga that believes in stretching the body with some force to get relief. Sherman has conducted similar studies in the past. Her previous study was a smaller trial that compared the same type of yoga and the same self-care book, but used a more comprehensive form of exercise, with less stretching. It found that yoga was more effective than the book and exercises. The recent study compares yoga to an exercise of comparable physical exertion.

Yoga is helpful in all kinds of back pain, says Yogi Anoop from Delhi. He has been teaching yoga for the past 18 years. Most common causes of back pain, besides pathological reasons, are stress-related, he adds.

Some asanas for people with back pain are shalabh (locust) asana and bhujang (snake) asana.

But an orthopaedic surgeon cautions yoga is not for everyone. Sarabjeet Sachdeva at Sir Ganga Ram Hospital in Delhi says, “Before one decides to use any kind of exercise for back pain, he or she should make sure there is no underlying pathological condition.” For someone who does yoga regularly it may offer relief but for a newcomer it may accentuate the problem, he adds. Yoga has been considered an important therapeutic option for long in India, so the study by Sherman offers nothing new, Sachdeva concludes.

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