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Yoga for chronic low back pain helps only slightly

PainSci » bibliography » Tilbrook et al 2011
Tags: treatment, back pain, self-treatment, stretch, exercise, yoga, pain problems, spine, muscle

Two articles on PainSci cite Tilbrook 2011: 1. The Complete Guide to Low Back Pain2. The Tyranny of Yoga and Meditation

PainSci notes on Tilbrook 2011:

This study of more than 300 people found that using yoga to treat chronic low back pain help only very slightly: somewhat improved function (reduced RMDQ score) and no effect on pain. The researchers concluded that “a 12-week yoga program … led to greater improvements in back function than did usual care,” but that’s not saying much, of course (“usual care” generally being really lame for back pain). It’s also worth noting that yoga went badly for 12 of 156 people, “mostly increased pain.” Almost 10% = not good.

original abstract Abstracts here may not perfectly match originals, for a variety of technical and practical reasons. Some abstacts are truncated for my purposes here, if they are particularly long-winded and unhelpful. I occasionally add clarifying notes. And I make some minor corrections.

BACKGROUND: Previous studies indicate that yoga may be an effective treatment for chronic or recurrent low back pain.

OBJECTIVE: To compare the effectiveness of yoga and usual care for chronic or recurrent low back pain.

DESIGN: Parallel-group, randomized, controlled trial using computer-generated randomization conducted from April 2007 to March 2010. Outcomes were assessed by postal questionnaire. (International Standard Randomised Controlled Trial Number Register: ISRCTN 81079604)

SETTING: 13 non-National Health Service premises in the United Kingdom.

PATIENTS: 313 adults with chronic or recurrent low back pain.

INTERVENTION: Yoga (n = 156) or usual care (n = 157). All participants received a back pain education booklet. The intervention group was offered a 12-class, gradually progressing yoga program delivered by 12 teachers over 3 months.

MEASUREMENTS: Scores on the Roland-Morris Disability Questionnaire (RMDQ) at 3 (primary outcome), 6, and 12 (secondary outcomes) months; pain, pain self-efficacy, and general health measures at 3, 6, and 12 months (secondary outcomes).

RESULTS: 93 (60%) patients offered yoga attended at least 3 of the first 6 sessions and at least 3 other sessions. The yoga group had better back function at 3, 6, and 12 months than the usual care group. The adjusted mean RMDQ score was 2.17 points (95% CI, 1.03 to 3.31 points) lower in the yoga group at 3 months, 1.48 points (CI, 0.33 to 2.62 points) lower at 6 months, and 1.57 points (CI, 0.42 to 2.71 points) lower at 12 months. The yoga and usual care groups had similar back pain and general health scores at 3, 6, and 12 months, and the yoga group had higher pain self-efficacy scores at 3 and 6 months but not at 12 months. Two of the 157 usual care participants and 12 of the 156 yoga participants reported adverse events, mostly increased pain.

LIMITATION: There were missing data for the primary outcome (yoga group, n = 21; usual care group, n = 18) and differential missing data (more in the yoga group) for secondary outcomes.

CONCLUSION: Offering a 12-week yoga program to adults with chronic or recurrent low back pain led to greater improvements in back function than did usual care.

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