Yoga for Chronic Low Back Pain in the Cleveland Clinic Employee Health Plan


Robert Saper




Back Pain
Chronic Pain


Behavioral: Yoga

Study type


Funder types




Details and patient eligibility


This study uses clinical trial and implementation science methodology to specifically assess the effectiveness of yoga into the management of chronic low back pain (cLBP) within the Cleveland Clinic Employee Health Plan. The study will use a type 1 hybrid effectiveness-implementation design, which tests a clinical intervention while collecting data on implementation. Studying and implementing evidence-based, non-pharmacologic interventions is an important strategy for improving pain management and reducing opioid use disorder.

Full description

The investigators will use a single (investigators) blinded two-arm randomized control trial (RCT) design. The trial will be 24 weeks long and divided into two distinct parts: an initial 12-week Treatment Phase followed by a 12-week Follow-up Phase. Participants will be randomized 1:1 into weekly virtual yoga classes (Yoga Now group) or a wait-list control (Yoga Later group) who will receive usual care. After the 24 week study period, participants in the Yoga Later Group will be offered the yoga intervention in a non-study format as well as a free yoga mat and access to online yoga for LBP videos. The screening and enrollment process will all occur remotely and involves the following: 1) A telephone or Information Technology approved, The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA-secure), virtual meeting platform where participants provide consent for completion of eligibility screening through a standardized questionnaire; 2) if eligible, provision of information about the study presented by study personnel with use of an Institutional Review Board approved information page for informed consent, answering all questions about the study, and assuring participant understanding through the "teach back" method. Randomization occurs after administering the baseline survey. Investigators will use a computerized randomization procedure built into the study management system, RedCap, to randomize each enrolled participant using a 1:1 ratio to the Yoga Now group or Yoga Later group. Permuted variably-sized block randomization with block sizes of 6, 12 and 18 will be used. The study interventions start within approximately one week of baseline data collection and randomization. Participants will be asked to complete questionnaire forms at baseline, weeks 6, 12 and 24. All participants throughout the entire 24-week study can continue to receive routine medical care including doctor visits and pain medication. The hatha yoga intervention, a term for yoga that pairs poses and breathing techniques, is structured and reproducible. The full instructor manual and participant manual are available online. Originally, it was developed by an expert panel led by Rob Saper, MD and Master of Public Health (MPH) in 2007 and used in a pilot study of 30 participants with cLBP. It was further refined in 2011 in a dosing study of 95 participants and a larger non-inferiority trial of 320. It is designed specifically for the yoga-naïve individual for effectiveness and safety in cLBP. Each class is 75 minutes long and will be delivered virtually to a maximum class size of 12. Yoga instructors will complete an 8-hour training on the protocol directed by the Cleveland Clinic lead yoga instructor. Class begins with a relaxation exercise, yoga breathing exercises, and a brief discussion of yoga philosophy. The class proceeds with warm-up yoga exercises and then yoga postures. Yoga breathing is emphasized throughout. The class ends with a relaxation exercise. The 12 weeks are divided into four 3-week segments. Each segment is given a theme (e.g., "Listening to the Wisdom of the Body"). Participants are frequently advised to go slowly and carefully. The degree of difficulty of postures learned increases with each segment. For each segment, the participants gradually learn a sequence of 12-15 poses. The protocol provides variations and uses various aids (e.g., chair, strap) to accommodate a range of physical abilities. Participants are strongly encouraged to practice at home for 30 minutes daily on days which they do not attend yoga class. To facilitate home practice, participants will be given a free yoga mat, participant manual, and provided access to online videos prepared by the study instructors. Ten percent of online yoga classes will be virtually observed and assessed by a study team member for instructor fidelity to the protocol using a checklist. A 12-week follow-up phase consisting of larger optional classes for maintenance will follow.


140 patients




18 to 64 years old


No Healthy Volunteers

Inclusion criteria

  • 18-64 years old
  • Current non-specific LBP persisting ≥12 weeks with average pain intensity ≥4 for the previous week on an 11-point numerical rating scale
  • Ability to speak and understand English

Exclusion criteria

Any severe psychiatric or medical comorbidity in the Principal Investigator's judgment that would make study participation unsafe or not feasible.

Trial design

Primary purpose




Interventional model

Parallel Assignment


Single Blind

140 participants in 2 patient groups

Yoga Now (Treatment Group)
Active Comparator group
An initial 12-week Treatment Phase of weekly virtual yoga classes (Yoga Now) followed by a 12-week Follow-up Phase.
Behavioral: Yoga
Yoga Later (Wait List Control Group)
No Intervention group
A wait-list control group (Yoga Later) will receive usual care. After the 24 week study period, participants in Yoga Later will be offered the yoga intervention in a non-study format.

Trial contacts and locations



Data sourced from

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