Print Return

Yoga reduces pain and disability at up to 1 year in people with low back pain

Cramer H, Lauche R, Haller H, et al. A systematic review and meta-analysis of yoga for low back pain. Clin J Pain. 2013;29:450-60.

Review questions

Does yoga reduce pain or disability or improve quality of life in people with chronic low back pain?


Low back pain is a common reason that people see their family doctor. Although some drugs can help to reduce low back pain, some people prefer not to take drugs, especially over the long term.

Yoga is a type of complementary or alternative medicine. It can include physical exercises, relaxation, and lifestyle changes.

How the review was done

The researchers did a systematic review, searching for studies that were published up to January 2012. They found 10 randomized controlled trials with 967 patients (average age 44 to 48 years). The key features of the studies were:

  • people could have low back pain with any cause or severity or duration;
  • yoga had to include a physical component and to be the focus of the treatment (sessions ranged from once a day for 1 week to twice a week for 6 months); and
  • yoga was compared with usual care, education or other exercise.

What the researchers found

The quality of the evidence was strong for short-term pain and disability and moderate for long-term pain and disability.

Compared with usual care, education or other exercise, yoga

  • reduced pain by a small amount at about 1 year; and
  • reduced back-related disability by a medium amount at 3 months and a small amount at 1 year.

Yoga was no different than usual care, education or other exercise for health-related quality of life.


In people with low back pain, yoga reduces pain and back-related disability more than usual care, education or other exercise at up to 1 year.

Yoga versus control (usual care, education, or other exercise) for low back pain

OutcomesShort term (about 3 months)Long term (about 1 year)
PainSmall decrease with yogaSmall decrease with yoga
Back-related disabilityMedium decrease with yogaSmall decrease with yoga
Health-related quality of lifeNo difference between yoga and controlNo difference between yoga and control

This Evidence Summary was originally prepared for the McMaster Optimal Aging Portal.

Published: Monday, August 14, 2017

Please note that the information contained herein is not to be interpreted as an alternative to medical advice from a professional healthcare provider. If you have any questions about any medical matter, you should consult your professional healthcare providers, and should never delay seeking medical advice, disregard medical advice or discontinue medication based on information provided here.