When practised correctly, there are all manner of benefits to yoga, ranging from being more flexible to becoming more “at one” with yourself.
However, a couple of headlines claiming that yoga is the key to solving back pain according to a new study are misleading at best, and plain wrong at worst.
The Telegraph opted for “Yoga is the key to relieving long-term back pain, new study suggests” (opens in new tab), while Mail Online ran with “If you want to do ease back pain, do some yoga: Practice is twice as good as other exercises at helping discomfort” (opens in new tab), both in response to research that did little to back up these claims.
The study was actually a review of past studies on the subject, published online by the Cochrane Library (opens in new tab). The review involved 12 studies and 1,080 participants and, unfortunately, its conclusions regarding yoga were hardly as glowing as made out elsewhere.
Overall, the research found some evidence that yoga was better for back pain than doing no exercise, but there was no conclusive evidence that it was any better than doing other exercises designed to help sore backs.
Perhaps even more importantly, the study found that even when yoga improved back pain, it didn't do so by enough to be clinically important. The team behind the research predicted that on a 100-point scale, a 15-point improvement was needed to make a real difference in people's lives. The actual improvement from yoga was around five points.
So there is some evidence that yoga is better for back pain than no exercise (but not by enough to be clinically important) and it’s not proven to be better than other back exercises.
That’s not say yoga should be ignored though, as Susan Wieland of the Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, who led the research, told Reuters Health (opens in new tab):
“The lesson for consumers is, if you have chronic low back pain and you're interested in trying yoga, and your doctor agrees, it's worth a try.”
Nick Harris-Fry is a journalist who has been covering health and fitness since 2015. Nick is an avid runner, covering 70-110km a week, which gives him ample opportunity to test a wide range of running shoes and running gear. He is also the chief tester for fitness trackers and running watches, treadmills and exercise bikes, and workout headphones.
Sign up for workout ideas, training advice, the latest gear and more.
Thank you for signing up to Coach. You will receive a verification email shortly.
There was a problem. Please refresh the page and try again.