Research Suggests Yoga, Tai Chi Can Help with Lower Back Pain

March 3rd, 2020
By: JobsTherapy.com Content Staff

For patients dealing with chronic lower back pain, traditional remedies include physical therapy, medication, surgery, and applying hot or cold compresses. But a growing body of research suggests that yoga and tai chi also can be beneficial, giving physical and occupational therapists another arrow in their quiver.

A recent article in the journal Holistic Nursing Practice looked at 32 peer-reviewed studies on the effects of movement-based interventions on lower back pain and found that yoga and tai chi often help reduce pain and the mental distress that can accompany the problem. The findings were featured on Bicycling.com and in Runner’s World because avid cyclists and runners often experience lower back pain.

Researchers found that yoga was especially effective at reducing lower back pain over the long term, while tai chi helped lower the intensity of pain and pain-related disability. Men in their 20s tended to benefit from tai chi most of all, according to Bicyling.com.

Two of the studies involved military veterans, who have a higher rate of chronic lower back pain than the general population. In those studies, yoga helped improve participants’ mobility and lessened their pain without medication or surgery, Bicyling.com reported.

Study co-author Dr. JuYoung Park told Runner’s World that the research is important because it highlights treatment options that don’t involve medication and may provide longer-term benefits.

“While medications can control pain temporarily, they cannot cure the pain, and long-term use can lead to side effects, particularly with opioids,” Park, associate professor at Florida Atlantic University’s School of Social Work, told Runner’s World. “In this review, movement-based mind-body interventions were found to reduce pain intensity and improve physical function and emotional symptoms. It’s important for those who suffer from chronic back pain to consider mind-body interventions as treatment options.”

Park told Runner’s World that the combination of physical poses with an emphasis on relaxation and breathing techniques may explain the effectiveness of mindfulness movement in pain reduction. Yoga and tai chi gently stretch lower back muscles, improve flexibility and help turn off the stress response that leads to tight muscles, Park told the publication.

Park’s assessment is supported by another recent study about back pain and workplace stress. That research found that cortisol and adrenaline – stress hormones released when the body and brain sense threats – can contribute to chronic back pain, according to Bicycling.com.

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