Hatha Yoga an Effective Treatment for Chronic Back Pain

A study conducted in 2002 found that, at any given time, 25% of Americans suffered from lower back pain. [1] With the high prevalence of lower back pain, it is no surprise that a plethora of therapies have arisen to meet the needs of those suffering.

Among the myriad of “alternative therapies” that have sprung up, Hatha yoga stands out as one of the most effective and practical. Not only is Hatha yoga an affordable alternative to expensive pain medications, but by using Hatha yoga to manage back pain the side effects of pain medications, including possible addictions, can be avoided.

In 2008, The Journal of Alternative And Complementary Medicine published a study that found Hatha yoga was an effective treatment for chronic back pain. [2] The study, entitled “Yoga for Veterans with Chronic Low-Back Pain,” examined the use of Hatha yoga to treat chronic back pain for 33 male and female Veterans. Before enrolling in a ten week long Hatha yoga program, the participants in this study completed questionnaires to evaluate their level of pain, depression, fatigue, and health-related quality of life. After the completion of the ten week program, the participants again completed questionnaires. The researchers found that the ten week Hatha program caused a significant decrease in pain, fatigue, and depression.

Although this study seems promising, its results are limited due to fact that it did not have a control group. Furthermore, the researchers did not control for other variables, such as the use of pain medications during the ten week program.

The former study, although providing some tentative evidence for the effectiveness of Hatha yoga, was far from conclusive. Luckily, in 2009, a more rigorous study was conducted. The study, entitled “Evaluation of the Effectiveness and Efficacy of Iyengar Yoga Therapy on Chronic Low Back Pain” was published in the scientific journal SPINE. [3] The study randomly assigned 90 participants to either a treatment group or a control group. The treatment group participated in a 24 week long yoga program, which meet twice a week for 90 minute sessions. After the 24 week yoga program, the participants had significantly greater improvements in pain intensity and depression compared to the control group. Unlike the previous study conducted in 2008, the methodology of this study allowed for the researchers to conclude that Hatha yoga actually caused the improvements and not other unaccounted variables.


[1] Deyo, R.A., Mirza, S.K. & Martin, B.I. (2002). Back pain prevalence and visit rates: Estimates from U.S. national surveys. SPINE, 31: 2724-2727.

[2] Groessl, E.J., Weingart, K.R., Ashbacher, K., Pada, L. & Baxi, S. (2008). Yoga for veterans with chronic low-back pain. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 14(9): 1123-1129.

[3] Williams, K., Abildso, C., Steinberg, L., Doyle, E., Epstein, B., Smith, D., Hobbs, G., Gross, R., Kelly, G. & Cooper, L. (2009) Evaluation of the effectiveness and efficacy of iyengar yoga therapy on chronic low back pain. SPINE, 34(19): 2066-2076.