Chiropractic + Naturopathic Doctor

Research Review: Can Yoga Promote Spinal Health?

By Shawn Thistle   

Features Research

Yoga has been around for centuries, but has recently enjoyed a seemingly meteoric rise in popularity. Many of your patients practise it and perhaps you do as well! 

Studies Included

  1. Jeng C et al. Yoga and disc degenerative disease in cervical and lumbar spine: An MR imaging-based case control study. European Spine Journal 2011; 20: 408.413.
  2. Tilbrook HE et al. Yoga for chronic low back pain – A randomized trial. Annals of Internal Medicine 2011; 155: 569.578.


Yoga has been around for centuries, but has recently enjoyed a seemingly meteoric rise in popularity. Many of your patients practise it and perhaps you do as well!  An umbrella term encompassing many disciplines and techniques (similar to chiropractic, I suppose), yoga is a physical, mental and spiritual discipline that originated in ancient India. Traditional goals of practising yoga, including the attainment of perfect spiritual insight and tranquility, relaxation, and meditation, have evolved recently to include aspects of health we help our patients with – improving flexibility or general fitness, maintaining mobility, and injury treatment or prevention.


The combination of physical exercise, stretching and mental focus, in addition to emphasis on self-care, self-awareness, breathing and posture, makes yoga a potentially helpful tool in addressing many musculoskeletal pain syndromes, including low back pain. As spinal health experts, we should be aware of the research on different forms of exercise, while recognizing their potential benefits and limitations so we can best advise our patients.

This review will briefly discuss two recent studies that give us a glimpse into the growing body of scientific literature on yoga. One looks at how yoga impacts intervertebral disc health and the other evaluates yoga as a treatment for chronic LBP.

Effects of Yoga in Intervertebral Disc (IVD) Health
Jeng and colleagues conducted an interesting study in which they compared spinal MRI images of 18 asymptomatic control subjects with those of 18 yoga instructors with at least 10 years of practice experience (average was approximately 13 years). No subjects in either group had a history of low back pain. Cervical and lumbar spine MRI series were completed on all subjects and the degree of degenerative IVD changes were graded by two of the authors. 

Yoga for Chronic LBP
The aim of this parallel-group, randomized, controlled trial was to compare the efficacy of a 12-session, three-month yoga program (n = 156) to usual care (n = 157) for treating subjects with chronic LBP. All subjects received a back pain education booklet and “usual care,” which was not clearly explained. The yoga group was to attend 12 75-minute classes over the course of three months. Outcomes were measured at randomization and three-, six-, and 12-month followup, and included a variety of measures formats.

These two studies suggest that yoga could be a helpful addition to the activity profile of the general population or patients with low back pain. More research is needed to help us delineate the best application for this form of exercise, but in the interim it is something that we can discuss with our patients as a possible activity. In my opinion, the potential to network and establish a referral relationship with a local yoga studio, or to offer yoga within a chiropractic office, present practice development opportunities and a way to further serve your patients.

For the full review including results and discussions of both studies, please visit

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