Yoga. You might think that it is only for healthy, bendy people who drink green smoothies and visit the farmers market every weekend. But you know what? Anyone can do yoga. Yes - even you with your low back pain!
We know, exercising with low back pain can be scary and the thought of all that bending and stretching might seem like it will make things worse, but what if we told you that it can make you feel soooooo much better?
Yoga can make back pain better? That’s right! When it comes to low back pain, yoga can be a great way to help the muscles that support your spine. Yoga poses can help stretch and strengthen the muscles in your back and your abdominal muscles. Strong and flexible paraspinal muscles that extend down the length of your back and spine help the spine bend and increase mobility. Strengthening the multifidus muscles in your lower back and the transverse abdominal muscles in the abdomen helps support and stabilize your spine. Yoga can help to target these muscles, reducing your risk of a back injury and decreasing low back pain.
How Does Yoga Help With Low Back Pain?
Yoga helps low back pain in a few different ways.
Yoga increases oxygen and blood flow to the muscles, ensuring that essential nutrients reach the muscles, helping them stay strong and healthy.
Stretching can help reduce tension in tight muscles. Tense muscles also tend to be painful muscles that don’t respond as well to movement. When we stretch our muscles, we help improve mobility and reduce feelings of pain.
Stronger muscles surrounding your spine can make a great framework to help prevent the wrong muscles from having to do the work. When our back and core muscles are strong they help support our spine in the right way and help to avoid overuse and injury of the wrong muscles and tendons.
When we have strong, flexible spines and backs we reduce our chances of injury. Warm, flexible muscles respond better to movement. Tense muscles are stiff and more prone to being pulled with even simple movements.
Stress is another thing that often leads to tense muscles, increased sensitivity to pain, and a greater chance of injury. The breathing component of yoga helps to relax our bodies and our minds, bringing our brains into the present moment and helping to reduce stress. Studies have shown that deep breathing and mindfulness can have a significant effect on how we experience pain - with considerable reductions in pain sensations.
What To Consider Before Trying Yoga For Back Pain
If you are considering trying yoga for low back pain it is important to make sure that you first create a solid foundation for movements by making sure that your muscles are engaging in the correct way. Proper form will then help you to slowly lengthen your pose and stretch into that particular pose. Movement should be slow and deliberate - it is not a rush to get through the exercises as quickly as possible.
Breathing into the exercise will also help you to deepen the stretch. It is easy to sometimes forget to breathe in a pose. If you find yourself holding your breath that is a great time to take a deep breath and then consciously relax into the pose. It is also important not to push your body too much.
The aim isn’t to twist as much as possible - just to the point of tension - not to the point of pain. A spinal twist, for example, is a great exercise for low back pain. When engaging in a spinal twist it is important to make sure that you are first activating your core muscles, lengthening your spine, and then you twist until you feel a comfortable level of resistance.
Evidence Supporting Yoga For Low Back Pain
Chronic low back pain affects around 80% of the population at some point in their lives and has a significant impact on work productivity and quality of life. Research into alternative methods of managing low back pain, rather than just using medication, has shown yoga to be an attractive therapeutic option for those suffering from the condition.
Several clinical trials have been done to investigate the effectiveness of yoga for managing chronic lower back pain. Recent randomized control trials (RTCs) indicate that yoga can “reduce pain and disability, can be practiced safely, and is well received by participants”. Several studies have also shown that yoga can help reduce psychological symptoms. One 2016 study found that “yoga may reduce pain, improve function, and boost mood in people with chronic low back pain”. Another study concluded that yoga may have a “positive effect on depression and other psychological conditions”.
Whenever you start a new exercise program it is always a good idea to speak with your healthcare provider first and make sure there aren’t any issues that might arise. For example, if you suffer from certain back conditions like a herniated disc or a spinal fracture, yoga might not be the right exercise for you.
If your doctor gives you the go ahead, you should arrive a few minutes early to class and let the yoga instructor know about your specific conditions and limitations. Most instructors will happily work with you and suggest some modifications for certain poses that won’t put too much pressure on your back. Alternatively, some yoga instructors and studios specialize in yoga for people with low back issues.
Don’t be afraid to give yoga a try. The twists and stretches that make up a yoga class are a great way to help improve your spinal flexibility and help you get a healthier back.
Top Tips For Supporting Your Spine In Yoga
1. Use supportive items like bolster pillows and yoga blocks to help support you in certain poses. These can take pressure off your spine and help you enjoy the stretch at the level that you are at. As you get stronger and more flexible you can change the height of the block or maybe do away with it all together at some point. Don’t push yourself too hard in the beginning.
2. Yoga straps are another great tool to help with poses. By looping the strap around your feet you can get a nice, satisfying stretch without pushing yourself too much.
3. Never be afraid to ask for a modification. Yoga poses should never hurt or feel painful. Your instructor should be quite happy to give you an alternative option that will work the same muscles but in a different way.
4. Try not to extend and twist at the same time as doing so can put pressure on the intervertebral joints, compressing your spine instead of lengthening it.
Four Fabulous Yoga Poses For Low Back Pain
Now that we have covered the why and the way to do yoga for low back pain, let’s look at some of the best back pain poses that yoga has to offer.
Downward Dog is a very popular yoga pose that can be used to strengthen or stretch muscles in yoga. This pose is a great move for those with sciatica and low back pain since it focuses on stretching the muscles in the back of the leg which can be a cause of low back pain.
Begin on the floor on your hands and knees with your knees under your hips and your wrists in line with your shoulders.
Slowly push back, straightening your arms and legs while keeping them flat on the floor.
Point your tailbone towards the ceiling, lengthening your spine, legs and arms. You might find that your heels lift off the floor a bit, but try to keep them flat on the floor if possible.
Gently press your weight into your hands as if pushing your body away from the floor, increasing the stretch up your back and legs.
Hold this position for one minute before gently lowering your body back to all fours, resting on the floor again.
Bridge pose is a great way to strengthen your core abdominal muscles as well as low back muscles. Bridge pose has a lot of the same benefits that squats have, but it doesn’t put pressure on your lower back.
Begin by lying on your back with your feet flat on the floor and your knees slightly bent.
Place your arms by your side with your palms down, facing the floor.
Gently and slowly, lift your hips off the floor.
Hold this position for 5 seconds.
Slowly lower your hips back to the floor.
Repeat this movement 3 times.
Cat Cow Pose
The cat cow pose is a great way to release tension in back and neck pain. Cat cow stretching helps the body to relieve stress and pain in the lower back, as well as sciatica. The cat cow pose strengthens your spine and increases the flexibility.
Begin on all fours on your hands and knees with your hands in line with your knees, directly under your shoulders.
Take a deep inhale. Lower your head and slowly draw your navel towards your spine and tucking in your tailbone.
Exhale, lifting your head towards the ceiling, arching your back, and extending the spine.
Repeat each movement 5 or 10 times keeping the flow of the movements in line with your slow breathing.
Child's pose is one of the best stretches for low back pain as it is both a resting position and an active stretch. Child's pose both decompresses the spine and relaxes it. It opens up the spine and helps to stretch it out.
Begin on all fours with your legs fairly close together.
Stretch your arms out in front of you, fully extending them.
Slowly sink your body back so that your glutes are resting gently on your heels.
Rest your forehead on the ground in front of you (you can use a yoga block to rest your head on if it is too challenging to reach the floor).
Relax into this pose and hold the position for anywhere from 30 seconds to 5 minutes.
Yoga is a great way to help improve strength and flexibility which helps relieve low back pain. A metanalysis study that looked at 7 randomized trials found that 5 trials agreed that yoga leads to a significantly greater reduction in low back pain than conventional therapeutic exercises. 2 trials showed no difference to usual care.
Yoga can also have great behavioral health benefits and reduces stress and anxiety, which can reduce low back pain. Yoga is relatively painless and is gentle on the body. Doing yoga might leave you feeling a little sore the next day, especially if you are not used to this type of exercise, but doing yoga should never cause pain, tingling, or numbness. Always check with your healthcare provider before starting a new exercise program.