Yoga & Back Pain Part 2: The Results and Limitations of Current Science.

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by Alison Kavanaugh, PT Student

In Part 1: Yoga & Back Pain, we mentioned that there is a new growing body of evidence supporting yoga as an effective treatment for back pain. Yoga is among the most commonly used complementary treatments for this condition. (1) But just how effective is yoga in patients with back pain?

In May 2013 a systematic review (a summary of research being conducted on a specific topic) was published which researched yoga’s effectiveness on pain levels, disability, health-related quality of life, and global improvement on people suffering from low back pain.

This review found strong evidence for short-term (12 weeks) effectiveness and moderate evidence for long-term (12 months) effectiveness of yoga for pain and disability associated with chronic low back pain.

The evidence on the effectiveness of yoga was even more compelling when compared to educational interventions, concluding that yoga was more effective than education for short-term effects on pain and back-specific disability, quality of life and global improvement. (1)

According to Dr. Loren Fishman M.D. a back-pain specialist who studies and uses yoga in his rehabilitation practice claims that more research is needed to define exactly what it is about yoga that relieves back pain. The controlled movement and gentle stretching may relieve spasm and other musculoskeletal problems that are common causes of a painful back. The relaxation and stress reduction response that are a side effect of yoga’s emphasis on breathing and mental focus, have well-documented benefits for many physical and psychological conditions, including almost all types of back pain. (2)

One problem still exists - there are several major causes of back pain, and these causes are very different from one another. The treatments for them are also different. A back extension pose like locust may help someone with a herniated disc, but may have no benefit to another person who has spinal stenosis. (2)

It appears that yoga can offer many effective benefits to those suffering from back pain. However, it is essential that both teachers and student don’t label all back pain as similar.Determine a diagnosis, and then individualize a yoga program accordingly to fit the needs of people with back injuries!

“My main recommendation is no matter what you do, don't lump all back pain together. Find out your diagnosis. Only then you can start a rational individualized treatment program.” -Dr. Loren Fishman


Alison Kavanaugh

Alison is a soon-to-be graduate of Dalhousie’s MSC Physiotherapy program. She is currently completing her final physiotherapy clinical placement at Therapeutic Approach Health Centre under the guidance of Michael Munro, PT and Yoga Educator.

Alison has gained experience as a physiotherapy student in a busy orthopedic clinic as well as in the IWK Children's hospital perinatal center and chronic pain department. As a result, she has had the opportunity to treat a wide range of acute and chronic conditions, including various musculoskeletal injuries and neurological impairments in all ages.

Alison is mid-way through completing her 200-hour yoga teacher training at Therapeutic Approach Yoga Studio and has been a dedicated student of yoga for many years. 

She is a strong advocate of a movement-based approach to physiotherapy and believes that exercise (including yoga!) and education can offer the most effective strategy for wellness and recovery.



(1) Cramer, H., Lauche, R., Haller, H., & Dobos, G. (2013). A systematic review and meta-analysis of yoga for low back pain. The Clinical journal of pain, 29(5), 450-460.
(2) Fishman, L. (2014, August 12). Back Pain: Is It All in Your Mind? No, and Yoga Helps. The Huffington Post. Retrieved from