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Is yoga as effective as physical therapy for back pain?


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Photo: StockSnap/Freestocks.org

Whether you pinched a nerve, pulled a muscle, or suffer from chronic back pain, it’s long been thought that the most effective cures for the all-too-common aches are rest and physical therapy. And while both options are smart (and you should always check in with your doctor to weigh in on your situation), new studies indicate that the solution to your pesky pain may actually be getting active.

Don’t be surprised if your physical therapist starts having you incorporate downward-facing dogs into your routine.

One promising finding: Yoga can work as well as physical therapy when it comes to easing chronic lower-back pain, according to a new study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine. Researchers from Boston Medical Center tested 320 adults who had been in pain for more than a year—and more than two-thirds of them were using pain meds. The participants were split into three groups: One did 12 weekly 75-minute yoga classes, another had 15 60-minute physical therapy sessions, and the final group received an educational book and newsletters.

At the end of 12 weeks, both the yoga and PT groups were 21 and 22 percent less likely to use pain medication than the group who received the educational information. That’s not saying yoga is better than PT (the exact word the study used in comparing yoga to physical therapy is “nonferior”) or that you should skip your weekly tune-up—but don’t be surprised if your therapist starts having you incorporate downward-facing dogs into your routine.

Another study, published in Scientific Reports, found that running promotes happy, healthy spines. The study looked at 79 adults and found that the runners in the group had the strongest spines, The New York Times reports. Mileage was largely irrelevant: Runners covering 30-plus miles per week and those enjoying brisk daily walks were found to reap similar benefits. (So the next time your mom/dad/aunt/uncle/boyfriend’s cousin tells you “running is bad for you,” feel free to clap back letting them know you’ve got the healthiest discs at the family reunion.)

Considering that 25 percent of adults in the US have had lower-back pain in the past three months and 10 percent suffer from chronic pain in the area (meaning it lasts 12 weeks or longer), lacing up or hitting the mat sounds a lot better than continually popping OTC painkillers, which can pose gut health risks as well. You can do it—put your back into it.