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Yoga vs. Pilates vs. Other exercise? What is the best exercise for lower back pain? Part 2: Yoga

Updated: Nov 23, 2023

Lower back pain affects 85% of us at least once in our lifetime. Most of us are lucky enough to recover within a few months, but around 10% of people continue to suffer. The most commonly prescribed forms of exercise for lower back pain are yoga and Pilates, but this type of exercise does not necessarily suit everyone's personality or schedule.

Does yoga truly work for lower back pain?

In this series of three blog posts, I take a closer look at the evidence behind these forms of exercise and hope to answer the following questions:

Part 2: Yoga for lower back pain - does it actually work?

In Part 1, I looked at the evidence behind the use of Pilates to treat lower back pain. Part 2 will now take a closer look at what yoga is and whether there is any evidence that it may be useful in the treatment of lower back injuries.

What is Yoga?

Yoga is an ancient form of exercise that consists of a combination of meditation and yoga poses.

People tend to think of yoga as mainly consisting of stretching exercises, but the poses develop strength, endurance and flexibility depending on how you perform them.

I highly recommend that you read the section on “What is Yoga” on for a deeper understanding of how this ancient exercise form works.

Yoga for lower back pain - does it actually work?

Yes, two literature reviews of the most current research agree that Yoga can reduce pain and disability associated with lower back pain.

I can unfortunately not make any recommendations as to what type of Yoga is best for lower back pain, since the included studies used several different types. The sessions were all led by experienced teachers which may have attributed to the positive results.

"But why does Yoga hurt my back?"

There may be several reasons why yoga can make your pain worse, but the main two are:

1. Your teacher does not understand your condition and is not giving you appropriate exercises. Not all movements and poses are appropriate for everyone. The yoga classes used in the research studies were all tailored to the specific needs of the patients.

2. You are trying too hard – stop competing with the guy in the corner who can hook his leg behind his ear!

I always advise my patients to:

  • Book 1 to 1 sessions with an experienced yoga teacher (preferably one with a physio background) for 6 weeks.

  • Make sure that your teacher provides you with an exercise sheet and do the exercises EVERY DAY.

  • Only join a class once you understand the movements and know your limitations. Make sure that you join a class that suits your skill/activity level.

  • DO NOT PUSH THROUGH PAIN. While it may be normal to have a slight increase in your pain after a class, you should not experience a big flare in pain or other symptoms.

Yoga can be very effective in treating lower back pain.

“But I really don’t like yoga!”

Don’t worry. The research has found that yoga is no more effective than other mind-body exercises like Thai Chi and Pilates.

Need more help with your injury? You’re welcome to consult one of the team at SIP online via video call for an assessment of your injury and a tailored treatment plan.

About the Author

Maryke Louw is a chartered physiotherapist with more than 15 years' experience and a Masters Degree in Sports Injury Management. Follow her on LinkedIn or ReasearchGate.


  1. Cramer, H., Lauche, R., Haller, H., & Dobos, G. (2013). A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis of Yoga for Low Back Pain. The Clinical Journal of Pain, 29(5), 450-460.

  2. Saragiotto, B. T., Yamato, T. P., & Maher, C. (2015). Yoga for low back pain: PEDro systematic review update. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 49(20), 1351.


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