ISLAMABAD: New research shows that yoga may be a good alternative for treating this condition.

For this reason, people living with chronic pain often resort to alternative therapies, such as acupuncture or yoga. The NIH report that there is enough evidence to support the "short- and long-term benefits" of yoga for relieving chronic low back pain.

Previous studies have indeed suggested that yoga and stretching help ease low back pain.

But chronic low back pain tends to affect racial and ethnic minorities in particular, as well as people with a lower socioeconomic background. In this population - as well as in those who have more severe pain - the benefits of yoga may not have been studied sufficiently.

The 320 participants were randomly assigned to either attending 12 weekly yoga sessions, 15 physical therapy sessions, or just reading an educational book and newsletters on how to manage chronic low back pain.

After these interventions, the researchers continued to follow the participants for 1 year, which included a 40-week maintenance phase.

During the maintenance phase, yoga participants either took yoga drop-in classes or practiced yoga at home. Physical therapy participants took part in physical therapy booster sessions or practiced physical therapy at home.

To assess the participants' functionality, Saper and colleagues used the Roland Morris Disability Questionnaire. To assess pain levels, they used an 11-point scale at 12 weeks.

The trial determined that yoga was "statistically as effective" as physical therapy for alleviating pain, helping patients to be more functional, and to reduce their pain medication.

These improvements continued to be the same for both yoga and physical therapy after 1 year. As a result, the authors conclude that yoga is a "reasonable alternative" to physical therapy. They write:

"In conclusion, we found that yoga was non-inferior to [physical therapy] for improving moderate to severe nonspecific [chronic low back pain] in a diverse, predominantly low-income population."

Depending on the cost of the yoga classes and the patients' availability, yoga may prove to be a more cost-effective treatment alternative.