The objective of the current study was to find out whether yoga practice was beneficial to the spine by comparing degenerative disc disease in the spines of long-time yoga practitioners and non-yoga practicing controls, using an objective measurement tool, magnetic resonance imaging. This matched case–control study comprised 18 yoga instructors with teaching experience of more than 10 years and 18 non-yoga practicing asymptomatic individuals randomly selected from a health checkup database. A validated grading scale was used to grade the condition of cervical and lumbar discs seen in magnetic resonance imaging of the spine, and the resulting data analyzed statistically. The mean number of years of yoga practice for the yoga group was 12.9 ± 7.5. The overall (cervical + lumbar) disc scores of the yoga group were significantly lower (indicating less degenerative disc disease) than those of the control group (P < 0.001). The scores for the cervical vertebral discs of the yoga group were also significantly lower than those of the control group (P < 0.001), while the lower scores for the yoga group in the lumbar group approached, but did not reach, statistical significance (P = 0.055). The scores for individual discs of yoga practitioners showed significantly less degenerative disease at three disc levels, C3/C4, L2/L3 and L3/L4 (P < 0.05). Magnetic resonance imaging showed that the group of long-term practitioners of yoga studied had significantly less degenerative disc disease than a matched control group
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