According to research published in Spine, the yoga intervention program called ‘Yoga for Healthy Lower Backs’ is most likely going to be cost effective for not only the UK National Health Service (NHS), but for the wider society as well.

The specially-developed 12-week group yoga intervention program was observed and compared to conventional general practitioner (GP) care alone.

In order to decide if this was an appropriate use of NHS resources, the cost of the program needed to be checked out. There are currently no available yoga classes through the NHS which is why the team wanted to find the likely cost of a program.

After much examination, the experts, from the University of York’s Department of Health Sciences and the Centre for Health Economics, and the Hull York Medical School, concluded that there was a high chance (around 70%) of the yoga intervention being cost effective if the cost remained below £300 per patient (for a cycle of 12 classes).

Results also showed that participants in the control group had more days off work than those in the yoga program. After reporting back pain, a control group participant took an average of 12 days off. The cost associated with this control group participant’s time off was £1,202, as opposed to £374 for a yoga group member.

Professor David Torgerson, lead author and Director of York Trials Unit, in the University of York’s Department of Health Sciences, said: “Back pain represents a significant burden to the NHS in the UK and to society as a whole. As well as the associated health care costs, it is also a major cause of work absenteeism which leads to a productivity loss to society.”

He continued to explain how there has been little research on yoga’s cost effectiveness, even though evidence has shown the benefits for people with chronic and low back pain. “In our study we evaluated a specially-designed yoga class package by using individual-level data from a multi-centred randomized controlled trial. On the basis of the 12-month trial, we conclude that 12 weekly group classes of specialised yoga are likely to provide a cost-effective intervention for the treatment of patients with chronic or recurrent low back pain.”

Back pain is one of the most common medical conditions treated in primary care in the U.K., costing the NHS about £1.37 billion and the health care sector £2.10 billion a year. Each year, an estimated 2.6 million people suffer with back problems and turn to their GP for advice.

Professor Alan Silman, Medical Director of Arthritis Research UK, said:

“We welcome the fact that not only has yoga been found to help people manage their back pain, but that it is also cost effective, and results in fewer sick days. It is another option for people who are struggling to manage their condition, and one that encourages the move to self-management. Yoga is an intervention that has been proven to make their everyday lives easier and their pain more manageable.

“We’d hope that on the back of this, more people with back pain are encouraged to take up the yoga program.”

Participants who had either chronic or recurrent back pain were examined in the trial, who were split up into one group of 156 people offered yoga classes designed to improve their back, and a second control group of 157 who received GP care alone.

Each group had regular GP care, either involving medication to relieve pain or a referral to pain clinics and physiotherapists.

The program was designed to last for 12-weeks by Alison Trewhela, an Iyengar Yoga teacher and Senior Practitioner in Yoga on the British Register of Complementary Practitioners, with yoga teacher Anna Semlyen, a Back Care Advisor to the British Wheel of Yoga. Twelve professional yoga teachers delivered the work out.

Alison Trewhela concluded:

“GPs and commissioners are showing great interest in this yoga program. Many consider it could be the primary treatment option because it offers long-term positive outcomes, as well as a multi-disciplinary combination of taught skills that suits the bio-psycho-social nature of the condition of chronic low back pain.

Within its confidence-boosting, gradually-progressing environment, the gentle ‘Yoga for Healthy Lower Backs’ course addresses joint mobility, muscle-strengthening, emphasis on the breath, mental attitude to pain and perspective on life lessons, postural awareness and low back education, relaxation techniques, and advice about other potentially health-giving techniques and benefits.”

Researchers from University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign reported that yoga helps cognitive performance better than aerobic exercises.

Written by Sarah Glynn