My back pain: Could yoga, tai chi or qigong help?

About 80% of adults in the United States will experience lower back pain at some point.

Treating back pain typically involves medication, including opioids, surgery, therapy and self-care options.

Efforts to reduce opioid use and increase physically-based therapies to reduce pain and increase physical function and safety are crucial.

Patients are often advised to use non-pharmacological treatments to manage lower back pain such as exercise and mind-body interventions. But, do they really help?

In a new review, researchers evaluated the evidence of the effects of three movement-based mind-body interventions on chronic low back pain.

The research was conducted by a team from Florida Atlantic University and elsewhere.

The team examined yoga, tai chi, which combines gentle physical exercise and stretching with mindfulness, and qigong, a traditional Chinese meditative movement therapy focused on body awareness and attention during slow, relaxed, and fluid repetitive body movements.

Little is known about the effects of the movement-based mind-body intervention, in particular, qigong and tai chi.

The researchers compared and contrasted yoga, tai chi and qigong by examining the frequency and duration of these interventions; primary and secondary outcomes; attrition rates and possible adverse events; and results.

Findings from their review provide empirical evidence regarding the benefits of yoga, tai chi, and qigong, which have been recommended by health care providers for patients with lower back pain.

The team found that the majority of studies showed movement-based mind-body interventions to be effective for the treatment of low back pain, reporting positive outcomes such as the reduction in pain or psychological distress such as depression and anxiety, reduction in pain-related disability, and improved functional ability.

In addition, longer duration and high-dose yoga intervention showed reductions in back pain while tai chi reduced acute lower back pain in males in their 20s.

Tai chi also was more effective than stretching for lower back pain in young males.

In the general community, tai chi showed greater reductions in pain intensity, bothersomeness of pain symptoms, and pain-related disability than the control intervention.

Because there are only three qigong studies to date, it was unclear to the researchers whether this intervention is useful in treating chronic lower back pain.

Existing research suggests positive benefits of yoga, however, tai chi and qigong for lower back pain are still under-examined.

The team says 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 linked to the high incidence of adverse effects in treating lower back pain.

The lead author of the study is Juyoung Park, Ph.D., an associate professor in the Phyllis and Harvey Sandler School of Social Work.

The study is published in the journal Holistic Nursing Practice.

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