How This Woman Used Yoga to Avoid Back Surgery

As a young girl, Rachel Brathen lived with crippling back pain.

When she was a teen, doctors recommended surgery to straighten her spine. Both her aunt and grandmother also were diagnosed with scoliosis. Her aunt opted for the back surgery, which helped alleviate pain but also left her with very limited movement in her spine.

More than 22 million people practice yoga in the United States, according to the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association. Many of them practice to improve flexibility and find pain relief, according to the Yoga Journal.

But as Dr. Richard Besser, ABC News chief health and medical editor, noted, it’s difficult to pin down whether yoga is effective at easing symptoms of those who have back pain.

“There are many types of yoga and so many different causes of back pain,” he said.

Despite the lack of conclusive research, Besser said, there is some recent evidence to suggest that people with chronic low-back pain who do a carefully adapted set of yoga poses may experience less pain and improve their ability to walk and move.

But as good as yoga may be for soothing stress and a sore back, Sood recommended getting medical clearance first and taking it slow and easy to start.

That’s exactly what Brathen did.

She started with gentle, restorative classes that focused on improving the core strength of her middle muscles. Little by little she noticed the pain was less intense and less frequent. She said it took years to move from a slow, meditative practice to more rigorous poses.

Today, she is not only nearly pain free, she is able to do advanced moves like handstands and acrobatic arm balances.

But she said yoga has done more for her than just heal her lower back.

“Yoga helps with a feeling of well-being on so many levels,” she said. “The world could benefit more from people with flexible hearts than flexible bodies.”

Tweet Chat on the health benefits of yoga, today at 1PM, ET

Has your mind, body and spirit been helped in some way by yoga? Join our tweet chat today on the health benefits of yoga at 1 p.m. ET and share your story. Dr. Richard Besser, ABC News chief health and medical editor, will moderate.

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Additional reporting by ABC News’ Liz Neporent.