Yoga Can Ease That Aching Back

BU study finds it's as good as physical therapy for relieving lower back pain

Cailey Face (SSW'17) leads a Sunrise Yoga class at StuVi II. Photo by Alexandra Wimley (COM'17)

Can yoga work as effectively as physical therapy at relieving chronic lower back pain? Research led by Robert Saper, a School of Medicine associate professor and director of integrative medicine at Boston Medical Center, has found that it can. The BU study followed 320 patients who were getting 12 weeks of either yoga, physical therapy, or educational information, followed by 40 weeks of maintenance visits or home practice. The yoga and therapy patients were almost equally less likely to need pain medication than those receiving only education. Below, Saper and coresearcher Victoria Garcia Drago, a certified yoga instructor, describe four useful yoga poses that may help lessen your lower back pain.



“This is a relaxation pose that gently stretches the lower back muscles. If the hips don’t make it to the heels, place a blanket or cushion under the hips.”



“This pose is a back extension pose. It is relatively easy to do and strengthens the lower back muscles. If you feel too strong a sensation in the lower back, decrease the degree of extension by sliding the forearms forward.”



“Another back extension pose to strengthen the back muscles. Do with caution. This can be added to your practice once the back is able to tolerate Sphinx.”



“The knees-to-chest pose is helpful for decreasing discomfort and stiffness of the lower back. It is a nice pose to balance the stretch you get with the cobra or sphinx pose. You can also try it acutely to relieve low back pain as needed.”

Saper’s research, funded by the National Institutes of Health National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, was published July 18, 2017, in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

Carlos Soler can be reached at

A version of this article was originally published in BU Today.

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