Yoga is as effective as physical therapy for chronic low-back pain, study finds

In the study, both treatments led patients to report similar improvements in pain intensity and in their ability to be physically active — and in their overall quality of life.

Unfortunately, however, those improvements were not always clinically meaningful. In other words, the people in the study who went to yoga classes or physical therapy sessions did not have much better outcomes than those in the study’s control group, who received neither treatment.

Still, both yoga and physical therapy resulted in about 20 percent fewer patients taking pain medications, compared to patients in the control group.

Chronic low-back pain is a very common medical complaint. When surveyed, about a third of adults in the United States say they have experienced low-back pain within the previous three months. Most people recover from the condition within four to eight weeks, but the pain frequently returns within a year — in up to 80 percent of people, according to some research.

Doctors typically tell patients with low-back pain to stay active. They also usually prescribe medications and physical therapy. Previous research has shown that yoga — a practice that includes physical poses, breathing exercises and meditation — can help ease the symptoms of low-back pain, but it wasn’t clear how well it compared with standard physical therapy.

Nor was it clear if yoga was effective among the people most impacted by chronic low-back pain — those with low incomes and from racial or ethnic minorities. That’s because participants in previous studies on this topic have been predominantly white and middle class.

For the current study, a team of researchers led by Dr. Robert Saper of Boston University, recruited 320 racially diverse and predominantly low-income adults with chronic low-back pain. The participants were randomly assigned to either three months of weekly yoga classes or to 15 physical therapy sessions or to an education-only program, which involved receiving a self-help book and newsletters (mailed regularly during the study) about back pain.

At the start of the study and again at 12 weeks, the participants answered an array of questions, including ones about their level of pain and their physical activity limitations.

After three months, the participants entered a nine-month “maintenance” program.  During this period, the yoga group attended more yoga classes or practiced at home, while the physical therapy group continued sessions with a physical therapist every two months or did physical therapy exercises at home.

The participants were surveyed again at the end of the maintenance program.

Here is how the Annals’ editors have summarized the findings for patients:

The yoga and physical therapy groups showed almost the same amount of improvement in pain and activity limitation over time. The improvements in pain and activity limitation in the yoga and physical therapy groups were also found at 1 year and were similar to each other. Yoga did not perform better than education in terms of improvement in pain and activity limitation at 3 months. However, participants in both the yoga and physical therapy groups were less likely to use pain medications at 3 months compared with the education group.

Other measurements (satisfaction and quality of life) were similar between the physical therapy and yoga groups. A similar number of participants in the yoga and physical therapy groups reported mild joint and back pain as side effects of the treatment.

So, yes, the outcomes for the groups that received the yoga and physical therapy were similar — but only modestly better than those for the nontreatment group. In fact, none of the groups had very impressive outcomes. As an accompanying editorial points out, “half of yoga participants, two thirds of [physical therapy] participants, and three quarters of education participants did not achieve [a clinically meaningful response].”

The findings about yoga echo those of a Cochrane review published earlier this year. That meta-analysis (a study that analyzes the strongest previous research on the topic) also found that any positive effects from yoga on low-back pain were often too small to be clinically important.

That’s discouraging. What was encouraging in the Boston University study, however, was the finding regarding the use of pain medication. At 12 weeks, the yoga participants were 21 percent less likely and the physical therapy participants were 22 percent less likely to be taking pain medications than the education-only group.

Unfortunately, that reduction in pain medications appears to have been primarily in the use of over-the-counter drugs, rather than in the use of prescription opioids.

FMI: An abstract of the study is on the Annals of Internal Medicine’s website, but the full study — and the editorial — are behind a paywall, even though the research was supported with taxpayer money through grants from the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), which is part of the National Institutes of Health. The Annals’ summary of the study can be read in full on the website, however. You’ll find more information about chronic low-back pain, including a video on “Yoga for Health and WellBeing,” at the NCCIH’s website.

Yoga enthusiasts are also more likely to report that yoga motivated them to adopt healthier behaviors, such as eating more nutritiously and doing more aerobic exercise.

Susan Perry writes Second Opinion for MinnPost, covering consumer health. Susan has written several health-related books, and her articles have appeared in a wide variety of publications. Second Opinion is sponsored by UCare.

Would be a more accurate lead in to the substance of this article and the study. “In fact, none of the groups had very impressive outcomes. As an accompanying editorial points out, “half of yoga participants, two thirds of [physical therapy] participants, and three quarters of education participants did not achieve [a clinically meaningful response].”

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13 Health Benefits of Tai Chi (+8 Tips for Beginners)

Tai Chi is a form of martial arts practice that most people take up to increase balance, blood circulation, and body posture. Its low-impact range of motions alleviates high blood pressure and other heart problems. Plus, it’s a good anti-inflammation boosting workout for older adults.

Tai Chi makes use of moderate, but steady joints and muscle movements that puts very little pressure on the body. It’s all about balance, stability, and body coordination that enhances Tai Chi practice. The areas that Tai Chi targets are the arms, legs, shoulders, your core, and back. With that out of the way, Tai Chi is only practiced standing up so there’s healthy blood circulation and concentration.

For beginners, Tai Chi is an excellent practice to feel and look healthy. You can do them at home, outdoors, or in classes. It requires both concentration and flexibility to progress to more advanced moves.

That said, let’s look at Tai Chi’s most surprising health benefits that makes the practice more effective and interesting.

1. Tai Chi Can Relieve Weight Gain Problems For Most People

Even though Tai Chi is a noncompetitive martial art, its various defense techniques reduce stress and burn calories. Based on a scientific review, practicing Tai Chi is similar to walking at a moderate-pace. It burns the same amount of calories and when continued for weeks, can result in weight loss.

Combined with reduced stress and a healthy diet, Tai Chi is one of the healthiest ways to burn fat. Another important factor is that Tai Chi helps monitor high stress levels that are associated with weight gain. It reduces appetite for over-eating and positive influences weight management.

A study on Tai Chi combined with regular walking showed that it leads to increased energy expenditure. An accelerated energy expenditure level often causes better weight loss and fat burn. Based on many randomized trials evaluating over 360 participants, this study proves that implementation of Tai Chi on a regular basis leads to reduce body fat.

Also, energy expenditure also boosts metabolism which is effective for reducing body fat. According to some studies, reduced body fat often leads to loss of bone mineral density, but Tai Chi helps prevent loss of bone during exercise.

Key Takeaway: The ancient practice of Tai Chi has powerful weight loss benefits for adults. It helps burn calories, reduce hormonal stress, and increases bone mineral density. All these factors help reduce body fat in the healthy manner.


HELCO supports school peer mediation program

The nonprofit Ku‘ikahi Mediation Center recently received a $1,500 grant from Hawaii Electric Light Co. to support its East Hawaii Peer Mediation Elementary School Program.

The program brings conflict resolution and prevention skills to students, developing peacemakers in East Hawaii schools.

“I have learned as a peer mediator to let the students solve their own problems and not be rude and disrespectful,” said Keonepoko Elementary School fifth-grader Caleilah-Estelle Ahyee. “I improved my communication and behavior by not interrupting conversations and to be patient when people are talking.

“I am proud to be a peer mediator because I can make the world better.”

During the 2016-17 school year, 42 fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders were trained on how to mediate disputes among students at Kapiolani and Keonepoko elementary schools. In the coming school year, Mountain View also will participate.

“We appreciate Hawaii Electric Light’s ongoing commitment to working with local charities and other nonprofit organizations toward a vision of a better Hawaii,” said Ku‘ikahi Executive Director Julie Mitchell.

“Peer mediation directly contributes to Hawaii Electric Light’s focus on community programs aimed at promoting educational excellence. Our peer mediation program helps keiki reach their full potential,” she said.