The results of the UK’s largest ever study into the benefits of yoga, conducted by researchers in the Department of Health Sciences and Hull York Medical School were published in the Annals of Internal Medicine this month. The trial showed that yoga can provide more effective treatment for chronic lower back pain than more conventional methods, and the news was reported widely by national and international media.

Professor David Torgerson, Director of York Trials Unit who led the study, was interviewed on BBC Look North, by Jeremy Vine on BBC Radio Two and by BBC Radio Scotland , BBC Radio York and BBC Radio Lincolnshire.  The research was also broadcast on BBC Radio Four’s Today programme.

Newspapers and journals in France, India, China, Lebanon, Vietnam,Malaysia, throughout the US and Australia carried the story. In the UK , the story was reported by a number of local newspapers including The Yorkshire Post, The Press, and The Northern Echo.

The study, funded by Arthritis Research UK, found that people offered a specially-designed 12-week yoga programme experienced greater improvements in back function and more confidence in performing everyday tasks than those offered conventional forms of GP care.

Professor Torgerson said: “Back pain is an extremely common and costly condition. Exercise treatment, although widely used and recommended, has only a small effect on back pain. We therefore set out to investigate an alternative approach using a specially-developed weekly yoga programme for back pain sufferers to see if this allowed them to manage their back pain more successfully.

“While previous studies have focused on the short-term benefits of yoga, we also wanted to see the long-term effects and measured improvements three, six and 12 months after entry into the study. Our results showed that yoga can provide both short and long-term benefits to those suffering from chronic or recurrent back pain, without any serious side-effects.”

The research focused on back function – people’s ability to undertake activities without being limited by back pain, which was measured using the Roland Morris Disability Questionnaire. Although improvements in back function were more pronounced at three months, researchers found there was still an improvement in people’s ability to perform tasks such as walking more quickly, getting dressed without help or standing up for longer periods of time even nine months after the classes had finished.

Trial Manager Helen Tilbrook explained: “The trial involved two groups of people who were both receiving GP care for chronic or recurrent back pain. A 156-strong group were offered group yoga classes specially designed to improve back function, while a second control group of 157 people were offered GP care alone. Trial participants completed a questionnaire at three, six and 12 months from the start of the programme.”

Professor Torgerson summarised the results:  “On average, members of the yoga group were able to undertake 30 per cent more activities compared with those in the usual care group after three months, a statistically significant difference between the two groups which has been recognised as clinically important.

Medical Director of Arthritis Research UK Professor Alan Silman said: “We’re delighted that our trial has shown that yoga provides such positive benefits for people with chronic low back pain. This extremely common condition cannot be managed with painkillers alone and there is an urgent need to have non-drug therapies that sufferers can utilise in their own home.  This trial is part of our larger commitment to seek self-help solutions to this common musculoskeletal problem. There are compelling explanations why yoga may be helpful and this trial lends powerful support to the wider use of this approach.”