80% of people suffer from low back pain at some time in their lives. 1 in 3 people in the UK answer “Yes” to the question “Have you felt back pain over the past month?” It is a common and recurring problem.
Yoga – an Evidence-Based Treatment for Back Pain
Appropriate yoga, such as our ‘Yoga for Healthy Lower Backs’ programme (designed for non-specific low back pain), aims to address the past, present and future of the issue. It aims to: bring awareness to, and strengthen weak areas or loosen stiff segments due to past injuries; rebalance posture and strengthen musculature; improve and maintain improvements in strength, mobility, circulation and the health of the nerves. You can benefit from yoga whether you are just suffering from your first episode of back pain or whether you want to lessen the intensity and recurrence of episodes. As experienced yoga teachers, we have helped many people to practice and benefit from appropriate yoga and now we have good research proof. In a previous trial (K. Williams et al), 75% said that yoga had “significant importance” and the remaining 25% said that yoga had “some importance” on their low back health. In the same trial, yoga was found to lead to less medication usage (88% less).
What if my Back Pain Comes and Goes?
Because everyone has a back, everyone can benefit from practising yoga designed to focus on the health of the lower back. Even if you are not suffering from low back pain, it can act as an educative and preventative technique. Yoga was originally probably practiced mostly by men (we had 31% men in our yoga trial), but it is suitable for men and women. Yoga can be practised at any age.
Yoga helps you physically by making your muscles, tissues and joints healthy and also improves the function of your organs, immune system and glandular system, e.g. your digestion, breathing, gynaecological health and nervous system can improve too. Yoga is a mind/body discipline, positively affecting your body and mental outlook. Research shows that people with low back pain are less depressed after 3 months of being offered yoga and also after practising yoga at home a year after beginning. Our trial backs up two past trials (K. Williams et al 2009 and E. Groessl et al 2008) in suggesting that depression in low back pain sufferers decreases with yoga and that yoga’s benefits are long-term. It can be depressing to have back pain and yoga helps to bring about positive mental changes.
Research shows that the Alexander Technique (postural awareness), Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, manipulation and exercise can help to reduce back pain. Yoga can combine similar elements from all these methods into a single treatment package whilst empowering you to help yourself to improved comfort, health and wellbeing. You learn to use your body efficiently and comfortably throughout your day by attention to your postural habits – which is very relevant to recurrent back pain. You learn to change your attitude to your back pain episodes and also to the experience of occasional pain itself with self-observation and by targeting the neurological pathways from the site of pain to the brain. You learn to gently bring mobility to stiff parts of your body and to keep them flexible, which encourages future health in those areas. You learn to exercise, strengthen and relax your body and also your mind, with beneficial effects to your body, your mind and your whole being.
The ‘Yoga for Healthy Lower Backs – Relaxations’ CD is a great place to begin your introduction to yoga. The CD was designed for those with low back pain and trial participants loved it. It is not easy to learn yoga relaxation by yourself, but this CD talks you through it and was an essential part of our trial. Yoga teachers believe that you can use yoga relaxation to: take off the top layers of pain; reduce physical and mental tension; lessen the effects of life’s stress; stabilize your emotions; improve your overall health; allow your body to relax and settle into a more comfortable posture; bring calmness to your mind; improve your vitality; and more.
The ‘Yoga for Healthy Lower Backs’ book (our research’s Students’ Manual), published by Lotus Publishing, is available here via this website and at www.yogamatters.com. This book was designed as an accompaniment to our 12-class ‘Yoga for Healthy Lower Backs’ course. If you have some experience of yoga, it is likely that you will be able to work from this book. Of course, it is best to use the book as it was designed, i.e. alongside a 12-week course taught by a ‘Yoga for Healthy Lower Backs’ qualified yoga teacher. If you are a beginner, you may gain some benefit from this book, but the benefits will be greater by learning the yoga programme from a teacher.
‘The Yoga for Healthy Lower Backs’ Programme – Best way to learn
To recap, it is best to learn the ‘Yoga for Healthy Lower Backs’ programme from a qualified teacher (along with the book and the Relaxations CD) on a 12-week course. Find a teacher by looking at our Teachers List. Teachers know the yoga programme inside out and will watch what you do to ensure you do things well and appropriately for your particular low back condition. They will help answer queries you have, talk you effectively through each pose and teach you how to relax at the end of each class. They will also encourage and teach you how to incorporate the Home Practice Yoga Sequences and postural tips into your own life’s schedule.
The ‘Yoga for Healthy Lower Backs’ programme consists of 12 gently progressing, differing classes, the CD and the book (including practice sheets). The skills that you learn from these unique gradually progressive classes will go into your yoga toolkit and give you knowledge, skills and tools for life to improve and maintain the health of your lower back forever. Once the yoga is learned and the health and comfort of your lower back improved, we recommend that you practise your home sequence yoga at least twice a week. That’s just 20-30 minutes a week to maintain the health of your back as well as benefiting other parts of your body and your mind.
How Does Yoga Compare to Other Treatments?
In the November 2016 NICE Guidelines for Management of Low Back Pain and Sciatica, yoga is recommended as the first step to managing this condition. For this first step, it mentions ‘strengthening, stretching and mind-body’ exercise (= yoga) and preferably within a group setting (= our yoga programme). Our 313-participant yoga programme is analysed and offers the strongest body of evidence for mind-body programmes (effectiveness H. Tilbrook et al; and cost-effectiveness LH Chuang et al) within the long version NICE GL document. Yoga is mentioned in the first line of NICE’s press release 16th November 2016 regarding these revised guidelines and also in the Summary of the guidelines in the BMJ in January 2017. If psychological or manual (chiropractic, osteopathy, massage, manipulation) therapies are used, NICE only recommends their use, IF it is accompanied with an exercise programme.
Yoga is not a one-pill treatment nor is it like a course of antibiotics – yoga teachers believe that the effects are cumulative. Yoga does not just help initially, it can become a lifelong habit that means fewer and fewer episodes of shorter and less intense low back pain over time until these become almost nil and insignificant. Our research found people had far fewer days ‘out of action’/off work for the year (approx. 3 versus 12) after beginning attendance on a ‘Yoga for Healthy Lower Backs’ 12-week course.
Yoga in our trial was measured and compared to treatment interventions used in previous similarly rigorously-tested trials and was shown on a Forest Plot graph to be more effective than acupuncture, CBT, exercise classes taught by physiotherapists, 16 educational newsletters plus back care lectures, 6 individual Alexander technique sessions (but not as good as 24 sessions = potential costs of up to £1000), a back care educational book, massage, normal/standard/usual care, chiropractic/osteopathic/physiotherapy manipulation, and manipulation plus exercise.
Bearing all this in mind, this once-off 12-week course that offers life-long skills offers value for money along with long-term effectiveness.
More About the Yoga Programme and its Future
This yoga programme acts as a good introduction course to yoga and although it emphasises the lower back, because everything is connected and involved, the sequences will also affect your shoulders, hips, legs, arms, organs and systems of the body positively. This may mean fewer headaches, less IBS, comfortable knees, and more. If you are new to yoga, once you have completed it, this yoga programme may revolutionise how you feel on a day-to-day basis and encourage you to want to take up a regular Beginners, Foundation or General yoga class.
If there is currently no teacher near you, then please keep checking this website, because more teachers will be trained.
You are ultimately in control of your body and mind, so take charge gently now and turn your health around for the better. Those practising yoga in our trial had far fewer days off work than the control group over the 12 months measured (approx. 3 versus 12).
You may already be able to claim for our research-proven ‘Yoga for Healthy Lower Backs’ programme under your private insurance and there are scenarios where it is offered by the NHS in some UK regions.
Our vision is that one day anyone who wants to improve the health of their lower back – and we all have one! – will be able to have access to these classes. So, please do tell people about this website and get people talking about the yoga’s benefits and asking for it. Ask your local yoga teacher to consider training in this yoga programme, ask your local GPs, physiotherapists and other healthcare providers to consider offering this, or ask your sports centre or health centre to run these courses. Thank you for your help.
August 16th 2012 published research says that our specific yoga programme would save the NHS, employers and the economy money. It is a cost-saving, health promotional, long-term, self-management treatment option that should be widely available. Thank you for your help with sharing this information and referring to our website.
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