0928 GMT February 15, 2019
Back pain is the single leading cause of disability in the world. In the US, four out of every five people experience back pain at some point in their life.
In the UK, back pain is one of the most common reasons for visits to the doctor, and missed work. In fact, absence from work due to back problems costs British employers more than £3 billion every year, independent.co.uk wrote.
But there is a potentially easy way to prevent this problem: Yoga.
Our new research has found that exercises from the ancient Indian practice can have very positive benefits for back problems.
Our findings suggest that yoga program consisting of stretching, breathing, and relaxation methods can reduce sickness absence due to back pain and musculoskeletal conditions.
Wellness at work
There has already been plenty of research demonstrating the benefits of yoga for the National Health Service (NHS) patients, showing that patients with chronic back pain who regularly practice yoga take fewer sick days than those who don’t practice yoga.
But very little research has been done that looks into the benefits of implementing workplace programs, as we did.
We worked with 150 NHS employees from three hospitals in North Wales.
The staff were randomly assigned to either a yoga group or an education group. The yoga group received a total of eight 60-minute yoga sessions, once a week for eight weeks. In addition to this, the yoga participants were given a DVD and a poster for home practice.
They were invited to practice yoga at home for 10 minutes a day for six months. The education group, meanwhile, received two instructional booklets for how to manage back pain and reduce stress at work.
The yoga program was based on Dru Yoga — which emphasizes soft, flowing movements — and consisted of four parts.
To start each session, there was a series of gentle warm-up movements, followed by eight stretches to release tension from the shoulders and hips.
Then participants did four back care postures to develop suppleness in the spine, and improve posture. This was completed with relaxation techniques to create an overall feeling of positive health and wellbeing.
After eight weeks, the results showed that most yoga participants had larger reductions in back pain compared to the education group.
After six months, employee staff records showed that the yoga participants had 20 times less sick leave due to musculoskeletal conditions (including back pain) than the education group.
We also found that the yoga participants visited health professionals for back pain only half as often as education participants during the six month study.
Those who improved the most were participants who also practiced yoga at home for an average of 60 minutes or more each week. Ten minutes or more a day of home practice was associated with doubling the reduction in back pain, and many participants noted that it helped them to manage stress better too.