Many patients with chronic low back pain will get the same long-term relief from yoga as from physical therapy (PT). Over a year or more, patients will do about as well by carefully following either approach. When patients took yoga classes every week for three months, then attended more yoga sessions or practiced at home for an additional nine months, they reported about the same amount of improvement in pain and activity limitation after one year as patients who had 15 visits with a physical therapist during the three-month period, then—for the additional nine months—had further PT sessions every two months or did prescribed exercises at home.
There was a third patient group studied. These patients received an educational program that included a self-help book plus mailed newsletters. Both the yoga and PT groups did better than the education group after a year—and patients in both the yoga and PT groups reported themselves to be less likely to use pain medications after three months, compared with patients in the education group.
Low back pain is a common problem—and although most patients who have it get better quickly, some have symptoms that may continue for a long time. For those patients, physical therapy is often used—and is generally considered effective. The good news is that for people who prefer yoga to PT, and who have yoga classes readily available at an acceptable cost, yoga can be a good long-term alternative to traditional PT. With either type of approach, what is important is to continue having the treatment regularly and not to expect quick or short-term improvement.