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Yoga reduces pain and disability at up to 1 year in people with low back pain

Cramer H, Lauche R, Haller H, et al. A systematic review and meta-analysis of yoga for low back pain. Clin J Pain. 2013;29:450-60.

Review question

Does yoga reduce pain or disability or improve quality of life in people with chronic low back pain?


Low back pain is a common reason that people see their family doctor. Although some drugs can help to reduce low back pain, some people prefer not to take drugs, especially over the long term.

Yoga is a type of complementary or alternative medicine. It can include physical exercises, relaxation, and lifestyle changes.

How the review was done

The researchers did a systematic review, searching for studies that were published up to January 2012. They found 10 randomized controlled trials with 967 patients (average age 44 to 48 years). The key features of the studies were:

  • people could have low back pain with any cause or severity or duration;
  • yoga had to include a physical component and to be the focus of the treatment (sessions ranged from once a day for 1 week to twice a week for 6 months); and
  • yoga was compared with usual care, education or other exercise.

What the researchers found

The quality of the evidence was strong for short-term pain and disability and moderate for long-term pain and disability.

Compared with usual care, education or other exercise, yoga

  • reduced pain by a small amount at about 1 year; and
  • reduced back-related disability by a medium amount at 3 months and a small amount at 1 year.

Yoga was no different than usual care, education or other exercise for health-related quality of life.


In people with low back pain, yoga reduces pain and back-related disability more than usual care, education or other exercise at up to 1 year.

Yoga versus control (usual care, education, or other exercise) for low back pain


Short term (about 3 months)

Long term (about 1 year)


Small decrease with yoga

Small decrease with yoga

Back-related disability

Medium decrease with yoga

Small decrease with yoga

Health-related quality of life

No difference between yoga and control

No difference between yoga and control



Advanced statistical methods contrasting and combining results from different studies.
Randomized controlled trials
Studies where people are assigned to one of the treatments purely by chance.
Systematic review
A comprehensive evaluation of the available research evidence on a particular topic.

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