Yoga may help relieve low-back pain and neck pain, but it has not been shown to be helpful for some other painful conditions such as headache, arthritis, fibromyalgia, or carpal tunnel syndrome. According to the 2012 National Interview Survey (NHIS), approximately 9.5 percent of U.S. adults and 3.1 percent of U.S. children practiced yoga in 2012. Although most of the adults surveyed who practice yoga reported doing so for wellness-related reasons, many said they practiced yoga to treat a specific health condition, including pain. This issue of the digest provides a summary of available research on yoga for pain, including fibromyalgia, low-back pain, headaches, neck pain, and arthritis.
Condition and Summary of Current Research
Recent systematic reviews and randomized clinical trials provide encouraging evidence that some mind and body practices such as yoga may help relieve some fibromyalgia symptoms.
For patients with chronic low-back pain, recent evidence-based clinical practice guidelines from the American College of Physicians gave a strong recommendation based on moderate-quality evidence that clinicians and patients should initially select nonpharmacologic treatment with exercise, multidisciplinary rehabilitation, acupuncture, or mindfulness-based stress reduction. The guidelines also strongly recommend, based on low-quality evidence, several mind and body approaches, including yoga.
There is some limited evidence that yoga may provide short-term improvements for neck pain.
Only a few studies have been conducted on yoga for headaches, so there aren’t enough data to determine if yoga has beneficial effects for this pain condition.
Results from clinical trials suggest that some mind and body practices, including yoga, may be beneficial additions to conventional treatment plans for patients with arthritis, but some studies indicate that these practices may do more to improve other aspects of patients’ health than to relieve pain.