Yoga Therapy

Yoga Therapy Is A Great Method To Ease Neck & Back Pain As Well As Reducing Stress

Yoga therapy practice consists of postures and breathing. While there are many kinds, regular practice helps improve posture, flexibility, balance and strength, while reducing stress, neck and back pain.

You can go at your own pace. Just learning some of the techniques and doing a few poses can get results. I really like yoga therapy for not only increasing flexibility and reducing musculoskeletal pain, but you get the benefits of dealing with stress which often complicates neck and back pain. Additionally, just like Tai Chi, it can help with strengthening the legs and balance, therefore it can help reduce the risk of falls.

Yoga has been incorporated into therapy, just look at typical stretches and you can see a yoga pose. It really helps you learn how to move better. I can tell you that with my extensive study in Chinese martial arts, I use it almost everyday to help with my serious lower back condition. The stances, just like many yoga poses, are a vital part of being able to do daily activities while minimizing the stress on my back, especially during acute flare-ups.

  • A study in the 2015 International Journal Of Yoga, doing an extensive scientific literature review, clearly noted that yoga is an effective treatment for neck and back pain of a non-specific nature. Yes, this means yoga can be considered an alternative therapy (complementary alternative medicine), like chiropractic, acupuncture, massage and others, to help reduce pain and disability related to the spine, especially in the short term. Future studies will focus on longer term effects.

Neck and back pain is often related to muscle tension. Many people have muscle tightness in areas that affect the spine like the hips and shoulders. Working through yoga poses stretches and loosens up tense areas. Yoga helps with muscle toning and tension release. The focus on relaxation can help with muscle tension that is directly related to stress and has the ability to modify the perception of pain. Yoga can increase joint position and muscle tension awareness and can help with posture correction. Yoga therapy helps heal injuries by avoiding direct stress to an area of pain, focusing on corrects alignment of connective tissues, muscles and bones using movement that minimizes risk factors for pain and further damage.

  • A 2012 national survey study in the journal of Evidence Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine found that doing yoga at home is an important factor in your health status. In fact, the authors state, “Home practice of yoga predicted health better than years of practice or class frequency.” The authors suggest diligent home practice of all 3 aspects of yoga; poses, breathing and meditation.

Yoga For Neck Pain

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  • A clinical trial in the 2012 Journal of Pain studied yoga for long standing neck pain. The authors of this randomized controlled clinical trial used 77 patients to compared yoga with home exercise for neck pain. The yoga classes were 90 minutes per week for 9 weeks. The authors found that yoga was superior to home exercise not only for pain relief, but for improvement of function. They further noted benefits to quality of life and psychological well being.
  • A 2014 issue of the International Journal Of Yoga studied the effects of yoga on myofascial neck pain. Myofascia is the muscle and its covering, the fascia. This is often related to specific areas of muscle dysfunction that can refer pain to the head and neck areas. The study used an intensive schedule of yoga training: five days a week for 4 week. After the therapy, significant benefits were noted for all parameters of neck related pain including disability, pain, ranges of motion and even grip strength.
  • In a 2013 issue of the Pain Medicine journal, the authors did a study to evaluate the long term effectiveness of yoga for chronic neck pain. They found a 9 week intervention of yoga produced improvements in pain and neck related disability that lasted up to one year.
  • A qualitative study in the 2013 Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine focused on individual perceptions for patients with chronic neck pain. Yoga was done for 90 minute sessions, once a week for 9 weeks. The results indicated a reduction in levels of pain, but also improved ability to cope, accept and control the pain, with an increase in overall body awareness.
  • Comparing yoga with home exercises in 51 patients with chronic neck pain in a 2013 study in the Clinical Journal of Pain, the authors found yoga was more effective. The results were reduced neck pain & disability as the authors noted a functional improvement of the neck muscles. One notable finding was a “better mental quality of life” in the yoga group.

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Yoga For Back Pain

  • A 2008 study in the Journal of Alternative & Complementary Medicine examined the effects of an intensive 7 day yoga therapy versus exercise therapy for chronic back pain. Yoga was found to be superior in levels of pain related disability and for spine flexibility.
  • A 2015 study in the Journal of Rehabilitation Medicine examined cost effectiveness of yoga compared with exercise and self care advice treatment methods for low back pain in 159 subjects over 1 year. The authors did the study from an employer related focus. They indicated, based on health related quality of life evaluation, that yoga is a cost effective therapy for those who complied with treatment. Yoga sessions lasted 6 weeks
  • Back pain is a huge drain economically, and it is no wonder that we look for cost effective therapies. Here is an earlier study yoga focusing on cost effectiveness and quality of life published in a 2012 edition of the journal Spine. The authors focused on chronic as well as recurrent low back pain for 1 class a week for 12 weeks. Based on quality of life years, the authors estimated the cost effectiveness of yoga compared to usual care at one year to be 72 – 95%.
  • A 2014 study in the Journal of Yoga & Physical Therapy examined the factors associated with improvements in chronic back pain using yoga in 95 subjects with ages ranging from 20 to 64. The only factor associated with improvement was poor physical health at the start of the program. Factors like weight and income did not matter for experiencing the benefits of pain relief and back related function.
  • Most of these studies are related to a non-specific type of back pain, however, a 2014 study in the Journal of Back & Musculoskeletal Rehabilitation examined yoga therapy compared to normal treatment with subjects having sciatica and disc herniations. A 12 week yoga course was done. The authors concluded that yoga was beneficial and safe for sciatica as well as disc bulges and extrusions. There were no adverse effects noted
  • A 2014 study in the International Journal of Yoga examined chronic low back pain patients treated with yoga compared to exercise for intensity of pain and quality of life up to 6 months after therapy; 29 yoga postures versus abdominal and back muscle exercises for 4 weeks. The yoga group took one class per week for 4 weeks and practiced yoga at home 5 days a week for 30 minutes. The results clearly indicated greater improvement in pain intensity and quality of life for those performing yoga.

Benefits For Neck & Back Pain

yoga benefitsIt is clear from the research that yoga is a beneficial and cost effective method of therapy. There is a clear association with improvements in levels of pain, level of function, and psychological improvements, thus improving quality of life. We can see that results can last beyond therapy sessions, however, better results are associated with continued practice.

The literature indicates significant results for neck and back pain as well as the benefits of psychological improvement. Indications compare yoga favorably with therapeutic exercise, even specific flexibility and strengthening exercises. If you are in poor general health, yoga is a great way to get started on the road to better health.

For those recovering from acute neck and/or back pain, your body will let you know what poses to avoid, along with details in the yoga book. Standing poses are important for back pain recovery. It is probably a good idea to less challenging and fewer poses to start. Make sure you use blocks to reduce any initial strain. It takes some time learn proper alignment. Don’t overdo it! During this time, you must go slow. Practice in front of a mirror, breathe correctly for relaxation and to improve blood flow.

Remember to concentrate on correct breathing, correct posture, and the benefits of improved condition. This is not the time for meditation practice. Meditation techniques are widely used as therapy and well being practices, however, there are increasing concerns about the potential for harm.

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  • A 2021 Review in The Scientific World Journal indicates yoga therapy has shown to be significant for the reduction of systolic and diastolic pressure in those that are pre-hypertensive and can be beneficial in reducing the chances of developing hypertension or cardiovascular diseases. The evidence however lacks support in providing proper dosage of postures and breathing techniques.
  • A 2023 study in the International Archives of Occupational and Environmental Health found Yoga is useful to reduce musculoskeletal pain, discomfort, stress and improve quality of sleep among industry workers.

Author Bio

Stephen Ornstein, D.C. has treated thousands of neck, shoulder and back conditions since graduating Sherman Chiropractic College in 1987 and during his involvement in Martial Arts. He holds certifications as a Peer Review Consultant from New York Chiropractic College, Physiological Therapeutics from National Chiropractic College, Modic Antibiotic Spinal Therapy from Dr. Hanne Albert, PT., MPH., Ph.D., Myofascial Release Techniques from Logan Chiropractic College, and learned Active Release Technique from the founder, P. Michael Leahy, DC, ART, CCSP.