Yoga Shown to be Cost-Effective for Chronic Back Pain Management

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According to a new Veterans Affairs San Diego Healthcare System study being presented today at the Society of Behavioral Medicine’s Annual Meeting & Scientific Sessions, yoga is a low-cost strategy for treating veterans with chronic lower back pain.

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The study results suggest that yoga, which is typically delivered in a group format, is a relatively low-cost intervention and has a favorable cost-effectiveness ratio.

Yoga is a low-cost strategy for treating veterans with chronic lower back pain, according to a new Veterans Affairs (VA) San Diego Healthcare System study being presented at the Society of Behavioral Medicine’s Annual Meeting & Scientific Sessions today.

In a study including 150 military veterans with chronic lower back pain, researcher Erik J. Groessl, Ph.D., and his VA San Diego team found that when compared to care as usual, yoga improved function and reduced pain, and was inexpensive to provide. Groessl is also a researcher with the University of California San Diego School of Medicine.

“To be able to reduce the reliance upon opioids and other medications with side effects, it is crucial to establish evidence showing mind-body practices like yoga provide cost-effective benefits in both Veterans and non-veterans with chronic pain,” Groessl said.

“The study results suggest that yoga, which is typically delivered in a group format, is a relatively low-cost intervention and has a favorable cost-effectiveness ratio. Using intent-to-treat data, yoga was delivered for about $23 per session/participant, considerably less than the average cost of physical therapy,” Groessl said.

In the U.S., chronic low back pain is the leading cause of lost productivity and the second most common cause for physician visits. Billions of dollars are spent each year in the U.S. on health care related to back pain. Military Veterans and active duty military personnel have higher rates of chronic pain than the general U.S. population, and the back is the area of the body that is most commonly affected. In addition to pain, those with the condition also report increased disability, psychological symptoms and reduced quality of life.

In the study, Veterans were randomly assigned to either yoga or to receive care as usual. Veterans in the yoga group attended yoga 2x weekly for 12 weeks, whereas comparison participants were invited to attend the same yoga program only after six months (Delayed Treatment). The 12-week yoga intervention consisted of two 60-minute instructor-led yoga sessions per week, with home practice sessions encouraged.

The main results of this study were published in July 2017, and showed that yoga participants had larger improvements on measures of pain, disability, fatigue, physical function, and quality of life. Prior research produced similar finding in non-Veterans samples, but the current study is one of the first to document the costs and cost-effectiveness of yoga.

The research team will present their findings today at 10:45 a.m. CT during a paper session at the SBM Annual Meeting, being held in New Orleans at the Hilton Riverside New Orleans. Groessl is an SBM member.

The research was funded by VA Rehabilitation Research and Development.

The Society of Behavioral Medicine (SBM) is a 2,400-member organization of scientific researchers, clinicians and educators. They study interactions among behavior, biology and the environment, and translate findings into interventions that improve the health and well-being of individuals, families and communities (http://www.sbm.org).

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Lindsay Bullock
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