Yoga appears to be an effective treatment for neck pain and provides added benefits of improved psychological well being and quality of life, researchers say.

The mainstay of conservative treatment for neck pain is non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication, and the evidence of its effectiveness is contradictory while side effects like nausea and dizziness are well known. The authors noted that one type of yoga, called lyengar yoga, has been shown effective in other pain syndromes, including low back pain. This activity uses supportive props and the sequences of postures can be tailored to address an individual’s medical problem. No randomized controlled clinical trials have been published to assess the efficacy of lyengar yoga for adults with chronic neck pain.

Researchers at Charite-University Medical Center in Berlin and other sites in Germany and Austria studied 77 volunteer patients. 38 were assigned to the yoga group and 39 to a group treated with exercise. Unfortunately, the dropout rate was higher than anticipated as 24 subjects withdrew or were lost to follow-up. This reduced the study sample to 25 patients in the yoga group and 28 in self-care exercise. They were asked to complete a standardized questionnaire at the outset of the study, after four weeks, and after ten weeks.

The findings showed there was a significant and clinically important reduction in pain intensity in the yoga group. The authors reasoned that yoga might enhance both the toning of muscles and releasing of muscle tension. Relaxation responses, therefore, could reduce stress related muscle tension and modify neurobiological pain perception. They concluded, based on the study data, that lyengar yoga can be a safe and effective treatment option for chronic neck pain. The study results are consistent with the demonstrated benefits of yoga for treating low back pain.

The study has been published in The Journal of Pain.