Over time, we create body movements and posture habits that can lead to reduced mobility of joints and compromised body positions. Being flexible significantly reduces the chance of experiencing occasional and chronic back pain.
Chronic low back pain is a common problem lacking highly effective treatment options. Small trials suggest that yoga may have benefits for this condition. This trial was designed to determine whether yoga is more effective than conventional stretching exercises or a self-care book for primary care patients with chronic low back pain.
228 adults with chronic low back pain were randomized to 12 weekly classes of yoga or conventional stretching exercises or a self-care book. Each class was 75-minutes long.
The yoga classes included 17 relatively simple postures, with variations and adaptations. Each class included breathing exercises, 5 to 11 postures, and guided deep relaxation. Classes were taught by instructors with at least 500 hours of Viniyoga training, five years teaching experience, familiarity with the selected postures and who were briefed by our yoga consultant.
Stretching classes consisted of 15 exercises designed to stretch the major muscle groups but emphasizing the trunk and legs, and four strengthening exercises. Classes were led by licensed physical therapists who had previous experience leading classes and had completed a two-hour teacher training program.
Self-care participants received The Back Pain Helpbook, 12 which provides information on the causes of back pain and advice on exercising, making appropriate lifestyle modifications and managing flare-ups.
After adjustment for baseline values, 12-week outcomes for the yoga group were superior to those for the self-care group. At 26 weeks, function for the yoga group remained superior. However, yoga was not superior to conventional stretching exercises at any time point.
What the study concluded:
Yoga classes were more effective than a self-care book, but not stretching classes, in improving function and reducing symptoms due to chronic low back pain, with benefits lasting at least several months.
How often should you stretch?
Stretching should be included after every workout to encourage improvement and maintain overall flexibility. Canada’s Physical Activity Guide to Healthy Active Living recommends flexibility training 4 to 7 days a week.
Stretching should never be painful. The focus should be on bringing the muscle to a point of slight tension.
In most cases, flexibility training can be done within 15 minutes.