Core exercise is an important part of lower back pain recovery; strengthening and stretching the muscles of the back, stomach, pelvis and buttocks helps to relieve muscular and, sometimes, spinal causes of pain. Yoga incorporates core exercise with attention to posture and breathing technique to offer a unique blend of benefits that may outperform basic core exercise.
That is the take-away from a recent small study comparing the effects of Iyengar yoga to basic core exercise on patients with chronic lower back pain. Iyengar yoga is a form that emphasizes precision in movement, posture and alignment along with breathing technique. This form of yoga often involves the use of props, such as blocks and belts, to reduce strain and minimize the risk of injury. Its adaptability makes it particularly amenable to people with physical limitations, disabilities or pain conditions.
In the study, 30 participants attended a 1-hour yoga class each week and were instructed to perform the poses at home for 30 minutes a day, five days a week. Another group of 30 was taught core stretching and strengthening exercises and instructed to perform them three days a week, gradually increasing repetitions. Both intervention periods lasted four weeks.
Researchers measured patients’ pain scores and quality of life scores before and after their respective interventions. Both groups saw significant improvements after four weeks, and further improvements at a six-month follow-up. The yoga group, however, outperformed the core exercise group. Consider the following results:
• Both groups had an average pain score of 6.73 at baseline. After the intervention, the yoga group’s score decreased to 3.8 and the core exercise group’s, to 5.3. At six months, the scores were 1.83 and 3.87, respectively.
• Physically unhealthy days decreased from 18.06 at baseline to 7.7 at four weeks and 2.6 at six months for the yoga group; scores were 17.86, 12.07 and 6.96, respectively, for the exercise group.
• Activity limitation days decreased from 16.76 at baseline to 7.53 at four weeks and 2.04 at six months in the yoga group; scores were 17.1, 12.03 and 5.03, respectively, for the exercise group.
• Mentally unhealthy days decreased from 17 at baseline to 8.46 at four weeks and 2.12 at six months in the yoga group; scores were 17.46, 10.53 and 5, respectively, for the exercise group.
It should be noted that, in a couple ways, the two intervention groups lacked symmetry: Yoga practitioners practiced more frequently; they also attended a weekly class during the intervention period, which may have influenced adherence to their exercise protocol and assured correct form.
The study suggests that both forms of exercise – Iyengar yoga and the more basic core exercises – offer tremendous promise for people with chronic lower back pain, and that yoga may offer more promise. Learn more about the study at www.ijoy.org.in.