New research suggests movement-based, mind-body strategies really do help.
Even among runners, lower back pain tends to be far too common, and popular treatments include medication, surgery and physical therapy, and of course, the tried-and-true methods of heat and ice. But new research suggests you may want to add mindful movement—such as tai chi or yoga—into the mix, and these choices may even replace traditional treatment options.
In a recent review published in the journal Holistic Nursing Practice, researchers looked at 32 peer-reviewed studies on movement-based interventions on lower back pain specifically, with results ranging from pain reduction to lowering psychological distress, depression, and anxiety.
They found that yoga, in particular, showed longer-term reductions in lower back pain, while tai chi reduced severe lower back pain for men in their 20s. For both men and women across a larger age range, tai chi was also effective for lowering pain intensity and pain-related disability.
Researchers noted that two of the studies on yoga were done on military veterans, who tend to have high levels of chronic lower back pain and are affected by the issue more than the general population. In that research, yoga proved effective for improving mobility and lowering pain without medications and surgery.
These findings are important because they offer a path to pain relief that doesn’t necessarily involve medications, said study coauthor JuYoung Park, Ph.D., associate professor at Florida Atlantic University’s School of Social Work.
“While medications can control pain temporarily, they cannot cure the pain—and longterm use can lead to side effects, particularly with opioids,” she told Runner’s World. “In this review, movement-based mind-body interventions were found to reduce pain intensity and improve physical function and emotional symptoms. It’s important for those who suffer from chronic back pain to consider mind-body interventions as treatment options.”
[Stay injury free on the road by getting on the mat with Yoga for Runners.]
Why is something like yoga more impactful than other types of movement? Park said it’s likely because of the combination of physical poses with mindful, focused relaxation and emphasis on breathing techniques. Not only do those work together to aid in gently stretching lower back muscles, but they also help turn off the stress response that tightens those muscles in the first place. Another recent study about back pain and workplace stress supports this, highlighting the role of cortisol and adrenaline—stress hormones released when the body and brain perceive imminent threats—in causing chronic pain.
Plus, as a bonus for runners, incorporating yoga moves into your workout routine can help you run more efficiently and lower your risk of injury. So, when your back starts to get creaky, consider a downward dog or boat pose as an initial treatment strategy.
Elizabeth Millard is a freelance writer focusing on health, wellness, fitness, and food.
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