Is yoga good for back pain? Here’s the evidence

Numerous studies have demonstrated the power of yoga as an effective tool to reduce back pain and improve long-term spinal health. Yoga is an ancient system of physical and spiritual practices that originates in India and has been around for more than 5,000 years. It can be practiced by people of all levels, from novice to advanced.

The most common type of yoga practice is Hatha yoga, which combines physical postures (asanas), breathing techniques (pranayama), and meditation (dhyana). In addition to increasing strength and flexibility, some poses can help to reduce muscular tension in the spine, alleviate lower back pain, and improve mobility.

Studies have shown that specific yoga poses can reduce pain, improve range of motion and spine strength, and relieve inflammation and stiffness associated with back pain. For example, a study published in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine found that yoga helped to improve back function in people with chronic low back pain. Similarly, another study in the journal BMC Medical Research found that participants who practiced 15 minutes of yoga a day experienced an almost 7-point decrease in their lower back pain on a visual analog scale.

Yoga can also improve posture by strengthening core muscles, which are essential for supporting and protecting the spine. Strong core muscles help to support the spine and can prevent the development of long-term back pain. Furthermore, increased awareness of the body fostered through yoga can help people to take more breaks before back pain becomes chronic.

Additionally, the mindfulness aspect of yoga can be beneficial for helping people with chronic back pain to manage the experience. Mindfulness practices can help people to recognize the connection between their movements, pain levels, and the associated emotions. Through learning to alter their reaction to pain, people can better manage their condition and avoid exacerbating the issue.

Taken together, the evidence suggests that yoga is a safe and beneficial activity for people with back pain. The physical and mental practices of yoga can help to improve both strength and flexibility, reduce pain levels, and help people to adopt better coping strategies to manage their symptoms.

In this blog, Jack Leahy, Cochrane UK’s Communications and Engagement Officer, writes about his own experience of practising yoga and the latest Cochrane evidence on yoga for people with chronic non-specific low back pain to find out: is yoga good for your back?

Page originally published: 03 February 2017. Revised by Sarah Chapman and republished: 18 November 2022 to reflect the updated Cochrane Review.

Take-home points

There is Cochrane evidence that: compared to no exercise, yoga probably results in small but clinically unimportant improvements in back pain and may result in small but clinically unimportant improvements in back function at three months there is probably little or no difference between yoga and other back-related exercise for back function. It is uncertain whether there is a difference between yoga and other types of exercise for pain and quality of life yoga is associated with more harms than no exercise, back pain being the most common, but there may be little or no difference in risk between yoga and other exercise NICE guidance recommends exercise programmes tailored to people’s preferences and these include yoga.


“Keep twisting! Wring out all those toxins!”

“Now lie back and feel the stale blood drain out of your legs.”

“Relax and feel small to moderate improvements in back-related function at three and six months.”

Two of those quotations are biologically impossible instructions I have received in yoga classes; the other is based on a recent Cochrane review. Whilst I feel there is often too much ‘woo’ around yoga practice, I enjoy the classes and there is a growing evidence base for the benefits of yoga. It won’t wring toxins from your body (your liver and kidneys will do that), but let’s take a look at some of the evidence on yoga for chronic non-specific low back pain (or general back ache to most people).

Low back pain

The Cochrane Review Yoga for chronic non-specific low back pain finds in November 2022 that yoga probably improves back pain at three months compared to no exercise but that the improvement may not be enough to be meaningful. It’s unclear whether there is any difference between yoga and other exercise in terms of pain and quality of life.

There is evidence that yoga may increase the risk of back pain compared to no exercise, but there may be little or no difference in risk between yoga and other types of exercise. To me, this is common sense, when you undertake any form of exercise, you increase your risk of injury!

Back function

The review authors also looked at whether yoga was beneficial for back function. That is to say, how yoga improved the activity-limiting aspects of low back pain. People taking part in the studies were asked to complete the Roland-Morris Disability Questionnaire to assess this. Did yoga help patients walk faster? Did it improve sleep quality? Did it help people putting on their socks in the morning? This last question really highlights how debilitating low back pain can be. Getting dressed in the morning can become a long struggle.

They found that, compared to no exercise, yoga may result in a small but clinically unimportant improvement in back function at three months.

Comparing yoga to other forms of exercise, there is new evidence in the 2022 update of the review and the authors are now more confident in their findings. They conclude that “there is probably little or no difference between yoga and other back‐related exercise for back‐related function at three months.”

How reliable is the evidence?

The reason for the uncertainty in the results on back pain and function (all those mays and unclears) is that the studies the review authors looked at were poorly designed. Most of the studies were not blinded. That is to say both the participants (yogis) and the practitioners (yoga teachers) were aware who was practising yoga and who was not. This is pretty obvious, I think anyone who has been mid way through Camel pose (Ustrasana) is fully aware they are doing it. This leaves room for an unconscious bias when the participants report on their back pain and function (and all outcomes were self-reported).

The review authors call for more, better-designed trials comparing yoga to no exercise to improve the reliability of the effects of yoga. They also call for trials that investigate other important outcomes such as depression and quality of life.

I’ve not been diagnosed with chronic low back pain, but after sitting at a desk all day, my shoulders and back feel stiff and are sometimes painful. After a yoga class, I feel better. What I take from the Cochrane review is that exercise may be good for chronic low back pain. Yoga is a form of exercise and may improve your back pain. But it is not clear that yoga is better than other forms of exercise.

I practise yoga because it is the only form of exercise that I have stuck with for any length of time. I have 3 pairs of swimming goggles and a pair of squash shoes that are longing to be taken out of the cupboard and fulfil their potential. Yet it is my yoga mat that reaches sweat-soaked Nirvana every week. Namaste.

A note on NICE guidance

The NICE guidance recommends exercise programmes tailored to people’s preferences and these include yoga. You can read more here: National Institute for Health and Care Excellence. Clinical Knowledge Summary: Back pain – low (without radiculopathy). London: National Institute for Health and Care Excellence; last revised November 2022. Available from:

The review authors comment that, in the light of their review findings, “decisions to use yoga instead of no exercise or another exercise may depend on availability, cost, and participant or provider preference”.

The Cochrane Review:

Wieland LS, Skoetz N, Pilkington K, Harbin S, Vempati R, Berman BM. Yoga for chronic non‐specific low back pain. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2022, Issue 11. Art. No.: CD010671. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD010671.pub3.

Join in the conversation on Twitter with @CochraneUK or leave a comment on the blog.

Please note, we cannot give medical advice and do not publish comments that link to individual pages requesting donations or to commercial sites, or appear to endorse commercial products. We welcome diverse views and encourage discussion but we ask that comments are respectful and reserve the right to not publish any we consider offensive. Cochrane UK does not fact check – or endorse – readers’ comments, including any treatments mentioned.

Jack Leahy has nothing to disclose.


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