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Yoga Could Be The Key To Easing Chronic Back Pain, Study Says

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- Does your back hurt all the time? Have you tried all sorts of things to ease the debilitating pains?

If so, maybe you should turn to a 5,000-year-old technique to feel better.

CBS2's Dr. Max Gomez reports that lower back pain leads to more than $200 billion in healthcare costs each year. The chronic aches and pains can be due to many reasons.

Some need surgery, but most don't. That's where painkillers and physical therapy are usually recommended.

Instead, why not try yoga?

Back pain patient Karen Charles describes it as "a sharp pain, almost like someone shot a bullet into you."

"It's a burning pain, into my buttocks and then down my leg," patient Harold Hargrave said. "It takes my breath away sometimes."

Both Karen and Harold know the horrors of back pain all-too-well -- Karen had several operations on her spine, while Harold had epidurals and took over the counter painkillers.

Many other sufferers turn to physical therapy, which often helps.

"Physical therapy is most commonly used for chronic low back pain patients because we are able to address the pain levels, address the strength and weaknesses and the flexibility to get the patient back into their life," Physical Therapist from Boston Medical Center Dr. Karen Mattie said.

Now, a new study finds that yoga may be just as good as physical therapy at reducing chronic back pain.

"We designed yoga classes specifically for chronic low back pain and compared them to physical therapy," Dr. Robert Saper from Boston Medical Center said. "We found that the yoga was as effective as physical therapy for reducing pain intensity and improving people's physical function."

Specifically, the study in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that patients doing yoga reported lower overall pain intensity. They were able to be more physically active and a number were even able to reduce or even stop all their pain medications.

Just as importantly, the study showed that yoga helped medically underserved populations that have a greater degree of disability and economic impact from their back pain.

"When yoga is made available and affordable to a diverse population, people of both sexes, people who are disabled, different races and economic backgrounds are both receptive to yoga and more importantly can benefit from it," Dr. Saper said.

There are many different types of yoga these days; hot yoga, bikram, vinyasa, hatha, and even boxing yoga.

The yoga in this particular study was specifically designed for back patients. So if you want to try it out, it's best to tell the instructor about your back issues and start slow.

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