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ADVANCE Perspective: Physical Therapy & Rehab Medicine

Study Finds Yoga as Effective as PT for Pain

Published October 27, 2016 8:58 AM by Katherine Bortz

As the most common cause of long-term disability, chronic pain has become one of the most widespread conditions in America. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, pain affects more Americans than diabetes, heart disease and cancer combined.

This year, the CDC released new guidelines for the treatment of chronic pain in March 2016 in response to the related rise in opioid addictions. Instead of doctors prescribing drugs like hydrocodone and morphine, they should first have their patients try a non-drug route. The CDC has recommended that physical therapy, weight loss, cognitive behavioral therapy and certain interventional procedures should be attempted first.

A new study has revealed that yoga for lower back pain, the most common cause of short-term and chronic pain in the country, is, according to director of integrative medicine at Boston Medical Center, Mass., Robert B. Saper, MD: “nonferior to physical therapy for a diverse group of low-income patients.” The 320 adults chosen for this study all had chronic back pain “with no obvious anatomic cause, such as spinal stenosis.” Pain levels were high for all participants, with an average pain scale rating reaching 7.

To see the effectiveness of various treatments, the sample group was split into three sections, with one practicing yoga, one receiving physical therapy and one receiving education on their condition. The results of the study were remarkable.

Saper claimed that 48% of those who practiced yoga were able to get some relief from the practice and achieve a clinical response. Physical therapy received a 37% reduction in pain, and education received a 23% reduction.

What does this mean for the future of physical therapists treating chronic lower back pain? Yoga appears to be a more effective, cheaper and reduces the amount of medication taken by patients as effectively as physical therapy.

Since yoga “is actually superior” to physical therapy and “quite a bit” superior to education, according to the researchers, should physical therapists start incorporating the practice of yoga into their work?

The study can be found here


I completely agree with you Katherine, I definitely feel as though the integration of yoga into our care as physical therapists will greatly improve patient outcomes.  Chronic pain is such a widespread issue currently in our nation and it is imperative that we start to address this problem without prescription drugs being our first line of defense. As a certified yoga instructor and soon to be physical therapist and yoga therapist, I feel as though yoga is an amazing tool for these individuals.  Yoga is a wonderful adjunct to the other interventions and modalities we use as physical therapists.  Yoga not only addresses the physical aspects of increasing flexibility and strength, but also incorporates psychological and emotional factors as well.  Viewing the patient holistically and not just focusing in on the specific joint or impairment is truly what will lead to long term healing.  

Catherine Duncan, physical therapy - SPT, ECU DPT April 1, 2017 10:10 PM
Greenville NC

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