Specialised group yoga classes could provide a cost-effective way of treating patients with chronic or recurrent low back pain, according to the UK's largest ever study of the benefits of yoga.
Led by the University of York, and funded by Arthritis Research UK, the study provides an evaluation of a specially-developed 12-week group yoga intervention programme compared to conventional general practitioner (GP) care alone.
The results published in Spine, show that the yoga intervention programme - 'Yoga for Healthy Lower Backs' - is likely to be cost effective for both the UK National Health Service (NHS) and wider society.
The cost assumed for yoga intervention is important in determining whether this is an efficient use of NHS resources. As yoga classes are not currently available through the NHS, the researchers examined a range of possible costs. They conclude that if the NHS was to offer specialist yoga and managed to maintain the cost below -300 per patient (for a cycle of 12 classes), there is a high probability (around 70 per cent) of the yoga intervention being cost effective.
Researchers also found that those taking part in the yoga programme had far fewer days off work than those in the control group. On average, a control group participant reported 12 days off due to back pain, whereas those in the yoga group had four days off. The cost associated with taking time off was -1,202 for a control group member, compared with -374 for a yoga group member.
The study was carried out by researchers from the University of York's Department of Health Sciences and the Centre for Health Economics, and the Hull York Medical School.
Chief Investigator Professor David Torgerson, 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.
"While yoga has been shown as an effective intervention for treating chronic and low back pain, until now there has been little evidence on its cost effectiveness. 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 estimated to cost the NHS -1.37 billion and the health care sector -2.10 billion a year. It is also one of the most common conditions treated in primary care in the UK with about 2.6 million people seeking advice from their GP about back pain each year.
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.