Yoga And Neck Pain

Can Yoga Practice Reduce Neck Pain?

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Research is mixed on whether yoga reduces neck pain

Research Study At A Glance

The Research Question Asked

Can yoga practice reduce chronic neck pain?

Type of Study

Clinical study – randomized control trial

Study Participants (Sample)

Sample size: 23
Study participants:

  • Age 19-59
  • 3 male; 20 female
  • All participants had experienced chronic, nonspecific neck pain for at least 5 days/week for 3 months immediately before the study.
Methods

Study participants completed a 9-week treatment of Iyengar-style yoga. Neck pain intensity was self-reported starting a week before participants began the yoga treatment  and continuing until a week after yoga treatments completed.

Results

Neck pain intensity did improve for some participants in the yoga treatment group, but the change was highly variable and improvement was not linear over the course of the study.

Conclusion

Yoga practice may be helpful for some people experiencing chronic neck pain, however, more research is needed to determine under what conditions yoga is an effective treatment.

Yoga And Neck PainBackground

Chronic, nonspecific neck pain is a commonly reported condition. Neck pain can be distracting and disruptive for those suffering from it. The currently available treatments have shown limited improvements among those experiencing this type of neck pain.

Research question

Can yoga practice reduce chronic neck pain?

Research methods

Twenty-three study participants were recruited for this study. They ranged from age 19 to 59 and included three men and 20 women. All study participants had experienced nonspecific neck pain for at least five days/week for three months immediately before the study. Prospective participants who were aware of a direct source for their neck pain (whiplash, spinal injury, etc.) were not included in the study. 

Study participants completed a 9-week treatment of Iyengar-style yoga. Participants attended a group yoga class for 90 minutes, once per week and completed an assigned home practice routine for 10 minutes each day. The home practice routine included standing postures (mountain pose, standing half forward bend and warrior 2) and seated poses (pose of the sage bharadvaja and prosperous pose). Neck pain intensity was self-reported by the study participants on a scale of 0 (no pain) to 100 (unbearable pain) from one week before participants began the yoga treatment until one week after yoga treatments completed.

Results

Neck pain intensity did improve for some participants in the yoga treatment group, but there were significant differences from person to person in the study with respect to whether they experienced reduced neck pain with the yoga treatment. Average neck pain over the whole sample of participants did not either increase or decrease from week to week during the study. Additionally, for those participants who did experience reduced neck pain at some point during the study, the improvement was not linear over the course of the study. Some participants experienced neck pain that both increased and decreased during the course of the study.

Why is this relevant to yoga practitioners?

This study suggests that chronic nonspecific neck pain is very particular to each individual. We could probably apply that same idea to other kinds of nonspecific chronic pain, like lower back pain, for example. It seems likely then, that a yoga-related treatment for neck pain or other chronic, nonspecific pain, would also need to be individualized to be effective. 

It’s important for us to remember, as yoga practitioners, and as yoga teachers, that we all come to yoga practice with different patterns in our bodies. What feels therapeutic to one person may not be effective for reducing pain, and could even increase pain, for someone else. This research suggests that if we are to use yoga as a therapy, it will be very important that we keep adapting the particular yoga practice to each individual’s situation.

Reference citation

Allende, S., A. Anandan, R. Lauche, and H. Cramer. 2018. Effect of yoga on chronic non-specific neck pain: An unconditional growth model. Complementary Therapies in Medicine. 40:237-242.

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