Yoga and PT May Be Equally Effective at Relieving Back Pain, Study Says

Is there anything yoga can't do?


Yoga photo via

It may be time to break up with your physical therapist. A new study from Boston Medical Center (BMC) says yoga may be an equally effective treatment for chronic low back pain, an often debilitating condition that plagues millions of Americans and is the leading cause of disability worldwide.

In a study published Monday in the Annals of Internal Medicine, 320 racially diverse, mostly low-income patents with chronic low back pain were assigned to one of three treatment groups: yoga, physical therapy, or at-home education based on a self-help book and email newsletters.

For three months, yogis went to a weekly gentle yoga class using poses tailored for low back pain, then continued independently for nine months. Physical therapy patients had 15 appointments over three months, then went in for booster visits or did at-home exercises for nine months. The education group maintained its practices the entire time.

After the full year, yogis and physical therapy patients self-reported similar levels of pain reduction, activity improvement, and treatment satisfaction. Interestingly, yoga did not improve pain and activity impairment more than education after three months, though both yogis and PT patients reported taking fewer painkillers at the three-month mark than members of the education group.

All in all, the results suggest that yoga may be a viable, accessible, drug-free solution for those struggling with back pain. (Try it for yourself with our easy at-home flow.)

“As a health care community, we should collaborate with patients with chronic low back pain to determine their best options given their individual condition and preferences, and both physical therapy and yoga should be part of the discussion,” says first author and BMC family physician Robert Saper in a statement.

Yoga and meditation have also been shown in prior studies to help relieve depression, keep patients out of the hospital, and increase compassion—all of which sound like very good reasons to master your downward-facing dog, if you ask us.