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Can Yoga Be Helpful For Back Pain & Headaches ?

Yoga, which has been around for over 5,000 years, is one of the most popular forms of exercise for men and women alike.

According to Dr. Lisa Blum of Shift Wellness Clinic, part of the reason yoga has become so popular in western society is for its physical and mental health benefits. Interestingly, yoga originally began as a male-only practice, and the “feminine” stereotype associated with yoga only began when it was westernized. However, in the past 5 years it's now commonly practised by the likes of elite athletes, AFL players, and has been adopted by Premier League teams, and even by the military.

"Yoga isn't just about the body, it's also about the mind and it's a technique that has really helped me."

LeBron James

So how does something like yoga work to help with people who are suffering from back pain and/or headaches?

A 2020 report by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality evaluated 10 studies of yoga for low-back pain (involving 1,520 total participants) and found that yoga improved pain and function in both the short term (1 to 6 months) and intermediate term (6 to 12 months). [1]

Another 2020 review of 6 studies of yoga for chronic or episodic headaches (tension-type headache or migraine) found evidence of reductions in headache frequency, headache duration, and pain intensity, with effects seen mostly in patients with tension-type headache rather than migraine. [2]

"Yoga is my thing. I started doing mommy-and-me yoga when I was seven."

Meghan Markle

In 2016, two of yoga’s leading organizations, Yoga Journal and Yoga Alliance, conducted a worldwide survey looking at a variety of statistics about yoga in an attempt to quantify its value amid ever-increasing popularity.

The most cited reason people selected for doing yoga was to “increase flexibility”

Flexibility is an important component of physical health. Yoga offers many styles to choose from, varying in intensity from high to moderate to mild. Even the lowest intensity styles have been found to increase flexibility. [3-4]

Yoga seems to be especially helpful for improving flexibility in adults ages 65 and older. Reduced flexibility is a natural part of ageing, and a study found that yoga both slowed down loss and improved flexibility in older adults.[5]

"If anything, yoga is reversing the ageing process. I can do things with my body now that I wouldn’t even have thought of doing when I was an athlete, a teenager. "


“I started doing the yoga, it’s the greatest thing you can ever do.”

Tom Hanks

Is there anything else that yoga can be helpful for?

Can yoga help with mental health conditions? Major depressive disorder (MDD) is thought to be one of the most common mental health disorders in the world.

A 2017 meta-analysis of 23 interventions looking at the effects of yoga-based treatments on depressive symptoms overwhelmingly concluded that yoga can now be considered an effective alternative treatment for MDD , and both movement-based yoga therapies and breathing-based practices have been shown to significantly improve depressive symptoms. [6,7]

Can yoga help with stress relief? The American Psychological Association recently shared that 84% of American adults are feeling the impact of prolonged stress.

So, it makes sense that the second most cited reason people selected as to why they do yoga was to relieve stress. Thankfully, the science supports that yoga can be excellent at reducing stress. [8]

"I have a hard time sitting still. I can be all over the map. Yoga has given me the ability to be more focused and make better decisions that come from a clear place."

Adam Levine

Can yoga help with sleep problems? When measuring sleep, researchers look at a person’s ability to both fall asleep and stay asleep. Insomnia can affect one or both of these aspects.Yoga has been shown to improve both how quickly people fall asleep and how deeply they stay asleep. [9,10] This is partly due to the after effects of exercise and the mental calming and stress relief provided by yoga specifically.

Can yoga help with Osteoporosis? Many postures in yoga are isometric contractions, meaning the length of the muscles holding the pose doesn’t change, though they are fully engaged. For example, in Plank Pose, which is an upper pushup position, the arms, trunk, and legs are all engaged, without shortening or lengthening as they would if you were moving through a pushup. Yoga asana may also reverse the bone loss associated with osteopenia and osteoporosis. One study showed that just 12 minutes of yoga per day may significantly improve bone health. [11]

"Doing yoga five times a week has transformed my body. I love being toned and having muscle; it’s so sexy and beautiful. And I owe it 100 percent to yoga."

Kaley Cuoco, The Big Bang Theory

While the research is still young (especially in comparison with how long people have been practicing yoga), the results are quite promising and confirm what yoga practitioners have been touting for thousands of years: Yoga appears to be beneficial for our overall health.

Numerous practices fall into category of yoga, and some do not even involve physical activity, focusing instead on breathing and meditation techniques.

Because yoga is not limited to physical movement, it’s a practice you can do every day.

Find the modality that works best for you.


[1]Skelly AC, Chou R, Dettori JR, et al. Noninvasive Nonpharmacological Treatment for Chronic Pain: A Systematic Review Update. Comparative Effectiveness Review no. 227. Rockville, MD: Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality; 2020. AHRQ publication no. 20-EHC009.

[2]Anheyer D, Klose P, Lauche R, et al. Yoga for treating headaches: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of General Internal Medicine. 2020;35(3):846-854.

[3]Amin DJ, Goodman M. The effects of selected asanas in Iyengar yoga on flexibility: pilot study. J Bodyw Mov Ther. 2014 Jul;18(3):399-404. doi: 10.1016/j.jbmt.2013.11.008. Epub 2013 Nov 8. PMID: 25042310.

[4]Impact of 10-weeks of yoga practice on flexibility and balance of college athletes M Jay Polsgrove, Brandon M Eggleston, Roch J Lockyer Int J Yoga. 2016 Jan-Jun; 9(1): 27–34.

[5]The effects of yoga compared to active and inactive controls on physical function and health related quality of life in older adults- systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials. Divya Sivaramakrishnan, Claire Fitzsimons, Paul Kelly, Kim Ludwig, Nanette Mutrie, David H. Saunders, Graham Baker. Int J Behav Nutr Phys Act. 2019; 16: 33. Published online 2019 Apr 5.

[6]The Efficacy of Yoga as a Form of Treatment for Depression

Ledetra Bridges, Manoj Sharma J Evid Based Complementary Altern Med. 2017 Oct; 22(4): 1017–1028. Published online 2017 Jun 30.

[7]Streeter CC, Gerbarg PL, Whitfield TH, Owen L, Johnston J, Silveri MM, Gensler M, Faulkner CL, Mann C, Wixted M, Hernon AM, Nyer MB, Brown ER, Jensen JE. Treatment of Major Depressive Disorder with Iyengar Yoga and Coherent Breathing: A Randomized Controlled Dosing Study. J Altern Complement Med. 2017 Mar;23(3):201-207.

[8]Shohani M, Badfar G, Nasirkandy MP, et al. The Effect of Yoga on Stress, Anxiety, and Depression in Women. Int J Prev Med. 2018;9:21. Published 2018 Feb 21. doi:10.4103/ijpvm.IJPVM_242_16

[9]Interrelationship between Sleep and Exercise: A Systematic Review

Brett A. Dolezal, Eric V. Neufeld, David M. Boland, Jennifer L. Martin, Christopher B. Cooper

Adv Prev Med. 2017; 2017: 1364387. Published online 2017 Mar 26.

[10]Wang, WL., Chen, KH., Pan, YC. et al. The effect of yoga on sleep quality and insomnia in women with sleep problems: a systematic review and meta-analysis. BMC Psychiatry 20, 195 (2020).

[11] Lu YH, Rosner B, Chang G, Fishman LM. Twelve-Minute Daily Yoga Regimen Reverses Osteoporotic Bone Loss. Top Geriatr Rehabil. 2016;32(2):81-87. doi:10.1097/TGR.0000000000000085

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