Yoga could be as effective as physical therapy for treating low back pain, a noninferiority trial in the Annals of Internal Medicine suggests.

Some 300 mostly low-income adults with nonspecific, chronic low back pain were randomized to a structured yoga program (12 weekly classes), PT (15 sessions over 12 weeks), or education. After the intervention period, yoga and PT participants were randomized to booster sessions or home practice for another 40 weeks.

At 12 weeks, the yoga intervention was noninferior to PT for the primary outcomes — improvements in disability and pain scores. Yoga was not superior to education in terms of the primary outcomes, but secondary outcomes, such as discontinuation of pain medication, favored yoga and PT.

The benefits of yoga and PT persisted at 1 year, regardless of whether participants were assigned to booster sessions or home practice.

The researchers conclude: “A structured yoga program … may be a reasonable alternative to PT depending on patient preferences, availability, and cost.”


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