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Low Back Pain and Sciatica and Yoga

Written by sshowalter, FoundHealth.

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Hatha yoga, or, as it is commonly called in the US, simply “yoga,” is an exercise system derived from ancient traditions in India. There are many schools or varieties of hatha yoga, but all of them involve “asanas,” or postures. Many asanas function as gentle stretching exercises, increasing flexibility. Others encourage the development of strength and balance.

The practice of hatha yoga goes beyond exercise, however. Special breathing techniques are almost always part of the process; in fact, some forms of yoga focus primarily on breathing, and therefore overlap with traditional breathing practices generally known as pranayama. Because hatha yoga originated in traditional Hindu spiritual practice, it can involve meditation, chanting, as well as philosophical and religious introspection. However, completely secular versions of hatha yoga are widely available.

Hatha yoga is believed by its practitioners to provide benefits above and beyond simple exercise. For example, certain asanas are said to address specific health problems

Effect of Yoga on Low Back Pain and Sciatica

By strengthening the muscles and core of the body, increasing flexibility, and participating in conscious breathing, hatha yoga helps promote general well-being, as well as supports the healing of certain parts of the body specifically including the back.

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Research Evidence on Yoga

A few studies have shown that hatha yoga is specifically useful for treating low back pain. 62,63,75

Some people begin a yoga practice and find that they do not need for the modality to have been studied or "proven" by science but, rather, know on a personal level that it helps them mitigate their symptoms. Nevertheless, the more these integrative and alternative modalities can be studied, the more likely they will be accepted as treatment for different conditions, just as pharmaceutical drugs are "accepted" as treatments.

Safety Issues

Hatha yoga is generally at least as safe as any other stretching-based exercise program. However there are a few hatha yoga positions, such as the headstand, that can cause injury when they are performed by a person who isn’t yet sufficiently advanced in yoga, or who has certain health problems, such as a detached retina. A properly qualified instructor can help you avoid injury, taking your own individual health status into account.


  1. Williams KA, Petronis J, Smith D, et al. Effect of Iyengar yoga therapy for chronic low back pain. Pain. 2005;115:107-117.
  1. Sherman KJ, Cherkin DC, Erro J, et al. Comparing yoga, exercise, and a self-care book for chronic low back pain. A randomized, controlled trial. Ann Intern Med. 2005;143:849-856.
  1. Tekur P, Singphow C, Nagendra HR, et al. Effect of short-term intensive yoga program on pain, functional disability and spinal flexibility in chronic low back pain: a randomized control study. J Altern Complement Med. 2008;14:637-644.

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