Five times a day, approximately 1.6 billion Muslims worldwide bow, kneel and place their heads on the ground in the direction of the holy city of Mecca.
The prayer, known as the Salat, is one of the five obligatory elements of the faith set forth by the holy book, the Qur’an.
And according to a new study, it helps reduce lower back pain symptoms.
Scientists say that if performed regularly and properly, the daily ritual can alleviate pain and increase elasticity of the joints.
While other studies have looked at the psychological effects of prayer, this is one of the first to look at possible physiological benefits.
The daily ritual of Islamic prayer – bowing, kneeling and placing a head on the ground – can alleviate symptoms of back pain, a new study has revealed
The study, conducted by Binghamton University in New York, used computer-generated human models of healthy Indian, Asian, and American men and women to look at the prayer’s effect on lower back pain.
Researchers found that the bowing portion is the most stressful on the lower back.
But for individuals with lower back pain, using proper knee and back angles during the ritual can reduce this discomfort.
While the research focused specifically on Islamic prayer practices, similar movements were also found in Christian and Jewish prayer rituals – along with yoga and physical therapy.
‘One way to think about the movements is that they are similar to those of yoga or physical therapy intervention exercises used to treat low back pain,’ said co-author Dr Mohammad Khasawneh, a professor of systems science and industrial engineering at Binghamton.
‘Prayer can eliminate physical stress and anxiety, while there is also research that indicates prayer rituals can be considered an effective clinical treatment of neuromusculoskeletal dysfunction.’
Prayer can eliminate physical stress and anxiety, while there is also research that indicates prayer rituals can be considered an effective clinical treatment of neuromusculoskeletal dysfunction
Dr Mohammad Khasawneh, Binghamton University
Dr Khasawneh said that the angles are based on individual body shapes.
‘The maximum compression forces created during prayer postures is much lower than National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health safety limits,’ he added.
‘And the movements can be safely considered a clinical treatment for low back pain, as it requires different movements of the human body on a regular basis.’
The kneeling posture, known as sujud, can also increase joint elasticity, or mobility – but using incorrect angles and movements can increase pain.
Researchers say that further study is needed to look at the effects on physically handicapped individuals, those with more extreme body types and pregnant women – to find the best movements for these groups.
They plan to further validate the findings with physical experiments using sensors and cameras to track the stresses on the individual body parts during the prayer ritual.
‘Physical health is influenced by socioeconomic, lifestyle and religious factors,’ said Dr Khasawneh.
‘Moreover, studies indicate that there is a strong association between prayer and vigilance about maintaining a physically healthy lifestyle.’