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Yoga Can Ease That Aching Back

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

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 csoler@bu.edu.

Rich Barlow, Senior Writer, BU Today, Bostonia, Boston University
Rich Barlow

Rich Barlow can be reached at barlowr@bu.edu.

11 Comments on Yoga Can Ease That Aching Back

  • Charles Merzbacher on 01.25.2018 at 10:36 am

    Great to hear that BU researchers are confirming the benefits of yoga. I used to suffer from episodes of back pain— usually three or four enduring and often debilitating back spasms each year. I went to physical therapists many times. The PT alleviated the symptoms but did not fix the problem. Three years ago, I started doing yoga regularly. Not only have I cleared up most of my back issues, I am also able to control and release back spasms when they occur. I have even been able to get rid of the symptoms of sciatica that I had started to experience— numbness and tingling due to compression of the spine, a condition that a doctor at MGH told me was irreversible. Call me the Poster Man-Child for Yoga! One important point to underscore, however: the key to benefiting from yoga lies in doing it regularly and continuously. I can only fit in about 15-30 minutes of yoga each day, but I never miss a day, even if I have to do my practice late at night. Thanks for the article.

    • Bernice on 01.25.2018 at 11:36 am

      Thank you for sharing your yoga experience.

    • Susan Bull on 02.27.2018 at 1:08 pm

      The four poses posted above to help reduce back pain are good. However the top photo is a completely wrong pose for back pain ad that movement does not create space between the vertebrae but only increases compression. Check out master teacher Aadil Palkhivala’s video which is possibly on you-tube for what to do and not to do to help prevent and heal back pain.

  • Anand Upneja on 01.25.2018 at 10:46 am

    Grateful. Please keep up the good effort to help the suffering lot. Thanks once again.

  • Ellen Bryan on 01.25.2018 at 3:21 pm

    Very helpful! I have been doing these exercises for my back for some time now and generally experience a much healthier back than previously. What would also be helpful to see is what yoga positions to avoid, as I know from first hand experience that many yoga positions can exacerbate back pain. Thanks.

  • Baljeet Singh on 02.09.2018 at 2:06 am

    Thanks for sharing helpful yoga poses.

  • Andre on 03.11.2018 at 2:00 pm

    Yoga is an effective exercise technique that relieves back pain. Most doctors suggest Yoga for lower back pain. I personally got good result doing simple Yoga exercise suggested by my personal orthopedic surgeon. Thank you very much to share this well-written article.

  • Thomas Nelson on 06.21.2018 at 2:29 am

    I have problem with my back & sometimes have to take painkillers when the pain is severe. Thanks to your post, I will start doing yoga regularly to improve the situation instead of taking medicine. Thank you very much for writing.

  • Jhon on 08.01.2018 at 1:28 am

    with moving images its really easy to understand the pose. thanks rick for the info

  • Trevor Jones on 10.17.2018 at 2:17 pm

    Been looking for a few basic yoga positions I can do at home, thanks for this and the images!

  • Gaurav Nayal on 01.27.2019 at 7:01 am

    Thanks for sharing useful yoga asanas for back pain.

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