Objectives: Chronic back pain affects a large proportion of both the general population and of military veterans. Although numerous therapies exist for treating chronic back pain, they can be costly and tend to have limited effectiveness. Thus, demonstrating the efficacy and cost-effectiveness of additional treatment alternatives is important. The purpose of our study was to examine the benefits of a yoga intervention for Veterans Administration (VA) patients. SUBJECTS/INTERVENTION: VA patients with chronic back pain were referred by their primary care providers to a yoga program as part of clinical care. Before starting yoga, a VA physician trained in yoga evaluated each patient to ensure that they could participate safely.
Design: The research study consisted of completing a short battery of questionnaires at baseline and again 10 weeks later.
Outcome measures: Questionnaires included measures of pain, depression, energy/fatigue, health-related quality of life, and program satisfaction. Paired t-tests were used to compare baseline scores to those at the 10-week follow-up for the single group, pre-post design. Correlations were used to examine whether yoga attendance and home practice were associated with better outcomes.
Results: Baseline and follow-up data were available for 33 participants. Participants were VA patients with a mean age of 55 years. They were 21% female, 70% white, 52% married, 68% college graduates, and 44% were retired. Significant improvements were found for pain, depression, energy/fatigue, and the Short Form-12 Mental Health Scale. The number of yoga sessions attended and the frequency of home practice were associated with improved outcomes. Participants appeared highly satisfied with the yoga instructor and moderately satisfied with the ease of participation and health benefits of the yoga program.
Conclusions: Preliminary data suggest that a yoga intervention for VA patients with chronic back pain may improve the health of veterans. However, the limitations of a pre-post study design make conclusions tentative. A larger randomized, controlled trial of the yoga program is planned.