Using Yoga equipment to improve suppleness could help women and men with lower back problems, according to new research.

A study by American researchers found that weekly Yoga classes and stretching sessions eased pain and improved functionality in some individuals with chronic lower back pain after three months.

People who used Yoga mats in sessions for 12 weeks and practised when they were at home reported fewer symptoms of a bad back and had better functionality.

Dr Timothy Carey of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, told Reuters: "We've known for a while ... that exercise is good for back pain."

The study, funded by the National Institutes of Health's National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, divided participants with general lower back pain into three groups and got the first group to attend 75-minute Yoga classes each week, while the second lot went to generic stretching sessions.

Individuals in the third group were given a 200-page book on exercises, lifestyle changes and ways to manage flare-ups if they experienced bad back pain.

About half of those in the Yoga or stretching groups self-reported as having little or no back pain at all after their sessions came to an end, compared with 20 per cent of subjects in the self-care group.

Twice as many patients who used quality Yoga mats or attended the stretching groups said they had reduced their medication usage in comparison to the book readers.

"We found Yoga classes more effective than a self-care book," commented senior researcher Karen Sherman.

"The most straightforward interpretation of our findings would be that Yoga's benefits on back function and symptoms were largely physical, due to the stretching and strengthening of muscles. People may have actually begun to relax more in the stretching classes than they would in a typical exercise class," she added.

"Our results suggest that both Yoga and stretching can be good, safe options for people who are willing to try physical activity to relieve their moderate low back pain."

Posted by Freya Harper