WASHINGTON -- Yoga may be more effective than a self-care book for improving function and reducing chronic low back pain, according to new research published in the December 20 issue of Annals of Internal Medicine.

Authors recruited patients who had a recent primary care visit for low back pain and randomly assigned 101 to yoga or conventional exercise or a self-care book. Patients in the yoga and exercise groups reported good adherence at 26 weeks. Compared with self-care, symptoms were milder and function was better with yoga. The exercise group had intermediate outcomes. Symptoms improved between 12 and 26 weeks only with yoga. Researchers developed a series of yoga classes that used simple poses from a therapeutically oriented style of yoga, viniyoga, and avoided the use of poses that would be inappropriate for patients with back pain.

“We do not know whether a different yoga regimen would have reaped similar benefits. Westerners practice various styles of yoga that differ in their approach to the practice of yoga postures and breathing exercises. It is important to note that some styles, such as Bikram and vinyasa, may be too vigorous for patients with back pain who are unfamiliar with yoga whereas other styles may need modification from normal practice to be appropriate for patients with back pain,” the authors cautioned. “Dozens of classically identified yoga postures exist, and there are numerous variations in the way these postures can be practiced.”