Yoga is a trend sport (although the overall concept of yoga goes far beyond the sport), which attracts more and more people. Yoga not only fascinates by the interaction of movement and breathing, which is often called “moving meditation”. Also in many areas of physical and mental health yoga is said to have positive effects. 1
Besides mental illnesses, musculoskeletal complaints are the main concern – it is hardly surprising that movement is recommended as a treatment in the case of a lot of complaints of the musculoskeletal system. 2,3
So it’s not surprising that many people get into yoga through back or neck pain.
But does yoga really help with back pain? And what role does yoga play in the treatment? We would like to address these and other questions in the context of this article.
1. Yoga: The combination of breathing and guided movement
The term “yoga” in Western societies actually means predominantly the breathing exercise-related physical exercises called asanas. 1 However, this term largely corresponds to the so-called “Hatha Yoga” – a subset of the entire teachings of yoga, which in addition to physical exercises traditionally also include, for example, a code of conduct, breathing or meditation. 4
It was only in the late 19th century that the combination of physical exercise, basic psychological ideas and traditional teachings created the form of yoga that is taught today in Western societies. 1
This style was mainly developed in the early 20th century in Europe. Finally, since the 1990s, the highly physical and fitness-oriented current form of yoga has emerged in the US.
These forms of yoga usually combine movement and breathing and are thus intended to contribute to an intense body experience.
2. Yoga and health
In the past 15 years, numerous attempts have been made to demonstrate the health effects of yoga through scientific research. Scientists around the world have been studying the effects of yoga on many diseases, sometimes with remarkable success.
Especially the positive effects of yoga on mental disorders such as depression are considerable and can even compare – according to widespread analyzes – to the potential of psychotherapy to alleviate the symptoms. 5
In the psychic field, another interesting consequence of yoga is that illnesses associated with memory loss, such as Alzheimer’s may well be milder through regular yoga practice. 6
Even with physical complaints of the cardiovascular system or the lungs, regular yoga practice can have a very positive effect on the course of the disease. 7.8
But despite all the euphoria: which yoga exercises, for example, can be particularly recommended for an individual or for certain diseases, is far from being researched. And there are also reports of physical damage. Therefore, you should pay attention to how you feel doing yoga and generally proceed with caution. 9
3. Yoga and back pain
Anyone who follows our blog has certainly come across the close connection of physical and mental aspects in the development of pain. This is scientifically well documented even in back pain. 10
Therefore, it is not surprising that yoga, which also combines body and mind, is quite able to relieve symptoms in back pain. 11, 12
Indeed, several studies have shown a relief of back pain through regular practice of body-focused yoga. Yoga was even as effective as “conventional physiotherapy” – and the effect lasted long after the end of the guided yoga program. 13
Even with neck pain, yoga can contribute to improving the symptoms according to a recent study. 14
In fact, yoga seems to be a particularly cost-effective method of treating back pain, according to a British study. 15
So it’s not surprising that, for example, new US guidelines on the treatment of back pain recommend yoga for the treatment of back pain even before the use of medications! 2
Yoga, as taught in Western societies, has largely deviated from its spiritual roots and is predominantly physically oriented.
Many studies show the positive effects of yoga on a variety of conditions in a wide range of diseases.
Pain, especially back pain, can indeed be successfully treated with yoga – and probably as effective as with physiotherapy.