Sunflower Mandala

Therapeutic application of Iyengar yoga for healing chronic low back pain

Research paper by Kimberly Williams, Lois Steinberg, John Petronis. International Journal of Yoga Therapy. 2003;13:55-67.


Prior to introducing their research, the investigators reviewed, in detail, the rationale and methodology for using Iyengar yoga as therapeutic treatment for chronic nonspecific low-back pain (LBP). Their discussion of Iyengar yoga therapy sequences for LBP is accompanied by photographs of students receiving therapy.

In their lengthy discussion, the investigators noted that “yoga postures lengthen, tone, and reeducate all muscles that cause aggravation of the lower back to reinforce proper motor patterns. These include all the muscles that attach to or influence the pelvic girdle, including muscles of the abdomen, diaphragm, hamstrings, quadriceps, hip adductors and lateral rotators, buttocks, and muscles of the lumbar and thoracic areas of the back.”

“Yoga postures lengthen, tone, and reeducate all muscles that cause aggravation of the lower back to reinforce proper motor patterns.” -Williams et al, 2003

In the investigators’ randomized, controlled, 16-week study of the therapeutic application of Iyengar yoga for LBP, participants were randomized into either a yoga therapy group or an education group (control). Subjects in the education group received weekly newsletters on LBP topics. The yoga intervention included postures that help lengthen back extensor muscles, broaden the back of the pelvis, align the pelvis, rotate the spine, tone the abdomen, and invert the body. Many props were utilized in the yoga intervention, including wall ropes, benches, bolsters, and weights.

Of the 60 participants enrolled, 42 (age range, 27 to 67 years) completed the study. Analysis showed that subjects in the yoga group experienced significant improvements (assessed via questionnaires) in several areas vs the control group: higher functional ability (self-efficacy questionnaire), lower catastrophizing (coping strategies questionnaire), and both a decrease in pain intensity and an increase in perceived control over pain (pain attitudes questionnaire). Additionally, the yoga group showed a trend toward greater pain tolerance at several areas in the low back and pelvis compared with the control group. Also notable is that pain medication usage was significantly reduced in the yoga group vs control (88% vs 35%, respectively) at both post-study and 3-month follow-up assessments.

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