Yoga for pain relief

Adding yoga to your existing pain management plan can help ease pain from injury or illness. An integrative mind-body approach, it often combines meditation and breathing with exercise and stretching. It can be done home, either on your own or with the help of a video, or in a class with an instructor. Yoga and other mind-body practices are recognized by DoD as treatment strategies to help regulate and manage pain-related stress.

Back Pain

Yoga can improve low back pain in the short and long term and can increase comfort walking and other movements. Yoga also might make your back more stable.1 Increasing back stability helps protect against further back injuries and pain by making sure your spine stacks properly. Yoga can be more effective at decreasing back pain then some types of stretching programs and reading self-care books.2

Arthritis and Fibromyalgia

There are mixed results about the benefits of yoga for arthritis pain so, more research is needed. Supervised, intensive yoga might improve inflammation and physical function in knee osteoarthritis.3 Yoga can help people with fibromyalgia and general aches and pains be more physically active at work and home. For individuals with fibromyalgia, yoga can sometimes help reduce pain, fatigue, and depression, as well as improve quality of life.4

Stress and Mood

Yoga might help with other symptoms related to pain, such as those associated with depression, anxiety5, stress6, and pain tolerance7. As part of a wellness routine, some people have found that yoga helps improve their overall health and sense of well-being.8 Practicing yoga also can reduce stress and improve sleep.8


One of the most common reasons people are reluctant to practice yoga is lack of information about it.9 Also, healthcare professionals are likely to recommend yoga as complementary treatment for a range of skeletal, physical, and psychological concerns only when they have personal experience with it.10 So, if your healthcare professional isn’t personally familiar with yoga, he or she isn’t likely to refer you to it, but you can ask.


Scientists continue to study the use of yoga for different types of health conditions. Some yoga poses can put too much pressure on joints such as the neck, back, shoulders, hips, and knees. The most frequently reported problems are from (1) doing a headstand and (2) shoulder stand, followed by (3) eye problems from inversion poses.11 Be sure you do poses properly and don’t push your joints too far. Too much pressure on joints might not be good for people with certain types of back or joint pain or with significant joint instability, as well as older people. Pregnant women should consult a certified yoga instructor for information on what poses to modify and avoid.

Bikram and hot yoga have the added risks of dehydration, heat exhaustion, fainting, and exhaustion, most of which can be avoided with proper hydration. People with heart conditions and women who are pregnant need to consult with their healthcare providers before engaging in yoga practices, especially Bikram and hot yoga.

Before starting to practice yoga, carefully select a certified, knowledgeable instructor. You should inform your instructor of your specific needs, health conditions, and injury history. And always consult a healthcare professional who is familiar with both yoga and your specific health history before beginning any yoga program.


Practicing yoga is receiving increased interest in the military. The Defense Centers of Excellence developed and evaluated a yoga program—iRest® Yoga Nidra—to treat post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in Service Members and Veterans. They also have a video about service members doing yoga.

Learn more about yoga as a complementary health approach

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  2. Sherman KJ, Cherkin DC, Wellman RD, Cook AJ, et al. A randomized trial comparing yoga, stretching, and a self-care book for chronic low back pain. Arch Intern Med. 2011;171(22):2019-26.
  3. Srivastava RN, Avasthi V, Srivastava SR, Raj S. Does yoga improve pain, stiffness and physical disability in knee osteoarthritis? – A randomize controlled clinical trial. Osteoarthritis and Cartilage. 2015;23:A167.
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  11. Coeytaux RR, McDuffie J, Goode A, Cassel S, et al. Evidence Map of Yoga for High-Impact Conditions Affecting Veterans. Washington (DC)2014.