Commentary on Yoga Research

A case for careful literature review

The physical therapy (PT) world has been in a bit of an uproar about yoga lately, with several claims that the yoga community is encroaching into PT turf.  Unfortunately, the entire ordeal started with someone misinterpreting the 2005 study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine by Sherman, The study, Comparing yoga, exercise and self care book for chronic low back pain: a randomized, controlled trial, is often cited in other documents, because it is the best designed research article on this topic and provides the most statistically significant data. 

The study essentially looks at the effects of medication usage, pain and disability for 3 groups that have chronic low back pain: 1. Yoga class, 2. General exercise class including aerobic drills, strengthening and stretching and 3.  A self-help book.  By the end of the study, the data showed that the yoga class group had large reductions in disability and pain usage compared to the exercise and book groups.  The correct interpretation of this data is yoga is an effective intervention for individuals with low back pain and should be utilized in conjunction with other evidence based interventions by health professionals.    

The uproar started in June in response to a heath alert posted on the John Hopkins health alert website discussing this research article.    The anonymous author mislabeled the general exercise group as “conventional physical therapy.”  That mistake made the readers unfamiliar with the study think that a group yoga class is better than physical therapy for chronic low back pain.   Even more therapists panicked when several additional publications commented on this wrong information.  What concerns me is that highly educated health professionals did not read it for themselves.

So what are the lessons to learned here?

  1. Read research articles at least weekly and really think about the design, the data and the author’s conclusions.
  2. Physical therapists that treat low back pain should learn how to incorporate yoga into their practice.
  3. Yoga teachers and yoga therapists should work in collaboration with physical therapists to achieve excellent patient outcomes.

I realize this is quite different from any other blog post that I have written, but I truly want the yoga and physical therapy community to be on the same page and work together to create amazing patient outcomes.




  1. Sherman K, et al. (2005) Comparing yoga, exercise and self care book for chronic low back pain: a randomized, controlled trial.  Ann Intern Med. 143, 849-56.

3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Jean
    Nov 09, 2011 @ 15:01:23

    Thanks Sarah, great commentary! The miscommunications remind me of the telephone game we played in grade school!


  2. Lizbet
    Dec 03, 2011 @ 14:04:52

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  3. Susan
    Dec 09, 2011 @ 12:20:44

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