I'll concede that the idea that yoga might aid with an aching back is not exactly groundbreaking. (Deep stretching and sustained, strengthening poses might help iron out some kinks from a long day of sitting at my desk? Shocking.) But I also won't pretend that the progress I've charted through my own practice hasn't been significant. After years of grimacing through lower back issues—and, more recently, a stubborn pinched nerve in my shoulder blade with a tendency to shoot pain down my left arm at any given moment—I've been virtually pain-free since committing to near-daily yoga late last year. It's truly the best physical therapy I could have asked for, without the headache of an insurance copay.
If this all sounds idealistic, please note that I now have science (and physicians) on my side: A new study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine finds that yoga is just as effective as traditional physical therapy for targeting back pain.
The researchers split the study's 320 participants (who were all dealing with chronic back issues) into three groups. One was instructed to attend weekly yoga classes for 12 weeks, followed by drop-in classes or an at-home practice for the remainder of the year. The second group attended regular physical therapy sessions in addition to engaging in PT exercises at home. The third group got a self-help book and other educational materials.
Not only did the participants in the yoga and physical therapy groups see nearly identical improvements in their pain, but they also reported better overall well-being, and their need for outside medication significantly declined.
Still, the study's authors note to NPR that it's important to seek out the right yoga class—certain poses are better for improving pain than others, after all. This sleep-inducing posture is a great place to start at home (especially after sitting all day), but when you're at the studio, we definitely recommend chatting with your instructor before class begins—they'll know best how to tailor their flow to your body, and they can give you pointers on how to approach certain stretches for maximum impact.
On that note, shop our gym bag essentials below.