Yoga, tai chi and the mind-body martial art qigong may be effective alternatives to drugs when treating back pain, research suggests.
Around four in five people experience lower back pain at some point in their life.
Despite advice to manage the discomfort via exercise, many turn to painkillers and even surgery.
With an opioid epidemic well underway in the US, scientists from Florida Atlantic University looked at the effectiveness of “movement-based mind-body interventions” across 32 studies with a total of more than 3,400 participants.
“Back pain is a major public health issue often contributing to emotional distress such as depression and anxiety, as well as sleep issues and even social isolation,” said study author Dr Juyoung Park.
Results, published in the journal Holistic Nursing Practice, reveal the “majority” of studies showed “movement-based mind-body interventions to be effective for treatment of low back pain”.
This was measured by a reduction in pain or psychological distress, like depression or anxiety.
Some participants also had a decline in “pain-related disability” and were able to be more active.
“Long duration” and “high dose” yoga was particularly linked to reduced discomfort.
Tai chi was found to ease acute lower back pain among men in their twenties.
The ancient martial art was also more effective than stretching for lower back pain in young men, the results suggest.
In general, tai chi reduced pain intensity, “bothersomeness” of the discomfort and related disability more than any other intervention.
With just three studies available, the scientists concluded it cannot be said with certainty that qigong eases back pain.
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Qigong is a traditional Chinese meditative therapy that focuses on body awareness and attention via slow, fluid body movements,
Only four studies have been done on tai chi, making it also “under-investigated”.
Nevertheless, Dr Park said: “Yoga, tai chi and qigong could be used as effective treatment alternatives to pain medications, surgery or injection-based treatments such as nerve blocks, which are associated with high incidence of adverse effects in treating lower back pain.
“We need more clinical trials and empirical evidence so that clinicians can prescribe these types of interventions with more confidence for managing lower back pain in their patients.”