Yoga for Chronic Low Back Pain and its Mechanism of Action (YoMA)

YoMAPain is rapidly emerging as our nation’s next “public health crisis,” according to a consortium of federal agencies (CDC, FDA, NIH).  Debilitating and difficult to treat, chronic pain is a costly and burdensome problem for millions of Americans, especially working age adults, as it can dramatically affect a person’s ability to work, play and live. The cause of the pain can vary from individual to individual, often involving both physical and psychological components.

While therapeutic yoga has been shown to be effective at reducing pain-related outcomes in randomized controlled trials, it has yet to be widely accepted and implemented. This may be due to a knowledge gap–we still don’t know how and why (the “mechanisms of action”) therapeutic yoga for back pain actually works, and we don’t know which chronic low back pain patients it would most benefit.

yomaTo fill this knowledge gap, we are working to identify mechanisms of action (YoMA I and YoMA II studies) in parallel with the implementation of a public Therapeutic Yoga for Low Back Pain class. The results of this research will provide both scientific evidence and patient experience feedback.

Results from the YoMA I study point to the potential for therapeutic yoga to ameliorate physical and emotional pain. Because yoga is a physical practice, in YoMA II, we are measuring strength and flexibility in addition to psychological and mind-body factors to develop a greater picture of the mechanisms of action. Collectively, these two pilot studies are providing the framework and data for a full-scale randomized controlled trial of the mechanisms of yoga for improving symptoms of low back pain.

Therapeutic yoga is a practice that incorporates movement, breathing, mindfulness and meditation to reduce stress and improve health. Our goal is to try to understand how this non-invasive treatment may lead to improved health outcomes, which may ultimately lead to increased access to this type of yoga for people with chronic physical and mental illnesses. Investigation and dissemination of yoga therapy could substantially impact the lives of people suffering from diseases that are exacerbated by stress, including chronic pain, obesity, metabolic syndrome, and psychosis.

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