Yoga For People With Back Pain
- By Matthew Solan, Executive Editor, Harvard Men’s Health Watch
Whenever my lower back gets tight , I sit on the floor and slowly move into my favorite yoga pose: half lord of the fishes, also known as a seated spinal twist. Just a twist to the left and right never fails to restore my sore back.
Yoga is one of the more effective tools for helping soothe low back pain. The practice helps to stretch and strengthen muscles that support the back and spine, such as the paraspinal muscles that help you bend your spine, the multifidus muscles that stabilize your vertebrae, and the transverse abdominis in the abdomen, which also helps stabilize your spine.
But unfortunately, yoga is also the source of many back-related injuries, especially among older adults. A study published in the November 2016 Orthopedic Journal of Sports Medicine found that between 2001 and 2014, injury rates increased eightfold among people ages 65 and older, with the most common injuries affecting the back, such as strains and sprains. So, the question is this: how can you protect an aching back from a therapy that has the power to soothe it?
Scientifically Proven Reasons Why Yoga Relieves Back Pain
Now that Ive been pain-free for well over a year, I often wonder why it took me so long to try yoga, given how popular it has become over the last decade. I reached two conclusions: 1) I didnt think it would provide lasting and significant relief, and 2) I didnt understand why it worked.
To help ensure you avoid the same pitfalls and save time and money in the process Ive laid out solid scientific evidence which validates yoga as a tried-and-true method of back pain relief.
Yoga emphasizes three things in particular that makes it great for relieving back pain: deep stretching, diaphragmatic breathing, and improved posture.
What To Do If A Diagnosis Of A Herniated Disc Has Been Confirmed
For the remainder of this article I want to focus on practicing with back pain if you know that what youre dealing with is a large bulge or a herniated disc. What I am suggesting here is not meant to be taken as the only thing you should do. This protocol could change as symptoms change.
My suggestions are particularly pertinent to those that are doing a practice that contains a number of forward bends. Ashtangis take note! If you dont know already, I teach Ashtanga vinyasa yoga. The majority of practitioners that I work with are working within the primary series which contains a number of forward bends. For those that want to practice yoga with herniated discs, the primary series of Ashtanga seems ridiculous because the most common movement that should NOT be done when you have a herniated disc is to flex the spine. Flexing the spine means shortening the front of it. Since the majority of herniations head backward and off to one side, when you flex the spine the disc gets compressed and could further herniate. Not a good idea!
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What Are The Yoga Poses That Are Best For Lower Back Pain At Home
There are various yoga for lower back pain relief that can be done at home. Since these yoga poses do not require any special equipment, the efficiency of these yoga exercises for lower back pain remains the same whether you do them at home or at any other place. Here is a list of the best beginner yoga for lower back pain:
These Poses Could Make You Put Down The Pain Relievers
Achy back? Give yoga a go. Numerous studies have shown the power of the ancient practice, which emphasizes stretching, strength, and flexibility, to relieve back soreness and improve function.
According to research published in July 2017 in the Annals of Internal Medicine, yoga may even help reduce the need for pain medication. At the start of the three-month study, in which one group was assigned to physical therapy for their back pain, a second to yoga, and a third to reading about pain management strategies, 70 percent of the subjects were taking medication. By the end, however, while the number of people taking medication in the reading group stayed the same, only 50 percent of the yoga and physical therapy subjects were still taking it.
Researchers are also starting to discover how yogas effects on the brain may contribute to decreased pain. In a study conducted by the National Institutes of Health and published in May 2015 in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, scientists found that there were significant differences between the brains of those with chronic pain and the brains of regular yoga practitioners. Those with chronic pain had less of the kind of brain tissue in the regions that help us tolerate pain, but those who did yoga had more which suggests that yoga may be not just physically but neurologically protective.
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Proper Form Is Especially Important For People With Back Pain
The main issue with yoga-related back injuries is that people dont follow proper form and speed, says Dr. Lauren Elson, instructor in medicine at Harvard Medical School. “They quickly drop into a yoga pose without gradually lengthening into it.”
This is similar to jerking your body while lifting a dumbbell and doing fast reps instead of making a slow, controlled movement, or running on a treadmill at top speed without steadily increasing the tempo. The result is a greater chance of injury.
In yoga, you should use your muscles to first create a solid foundation for movement, and then follow proper form that slowly lengthens and stretches your body. For example, when I perform my seated twist, I have to remember that the point of the pose is not to rotate as fast and far as possible. Instead, I need to activate my core muscles and feel as though my spine is lengthening. Then I can twist slowly until I feel resistance, and hold for as long as its comfortable and the tension melts away.
Who Should Avoid Yoga For Lower Back Pain
While anyone can do yoga for lower back pain, there are some exceptions. People who are suffering from various health conditions or have any injury should avoid yoga asanas for lower back pain. To help you understand more, here is a list of who should avoid yoga for lower back pain: Those who suffer from back and knee injuries are advised to keep away from complex yoga poses for lower back pain.Those who are pregnant or have been through child delivery should not do yoga poses to relieve lower back pain.Those who have undergone any surgery must not perform yoga for lower back pain relief.
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How To Do Cat/cow Pose
Come to all fours . Make sure your wrists are directly beneath your shoulders. Your knees should be right below your hips. On a long, deep inhale, arch your spine. This is cow pose. On a long, deep exhale, round your spine. This is cat pose. Alternate between cat and cow, inhaling as you arch the back and exhaling as you round the back. As you do this, imagine that your healing breath is clearing out blocked energy in the lower back. Breathe into the lower back region and allow fresh prana to circulate throughout. Do this pose for 5-10 rounds every day.
Dont Do Intense Stretching
Long, static stretches or over-stretching sore muscles can do more harm than good, says Yeary. The tissues are already slightly damaged and working on healing. If you over-stretch your muscles and wring them out of all their fluids, you reduce their ability to heal and may even damage them in the process, she adds.
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Lower Back Pain Isnt The Same For Everyone
Low back pain as a term can constitute many things. In some cases, chronic lower back pain is caused by being sedentary, and becoming more active can work wonders in alleviating that pain. However, Dr. Welch cautions us about other more acute injuries rather than just tightness.
The most important thing to remember with low back pain, is that while peoples pain may seem similar it often times is not from the same cause, Dr. Welch said. Even with two people having the same injury they may respond differently depending on the type of herniation and severity.
Symptoms Of Lower Back Pain
The sensation during lower back pain can be burning, stabbing, or shooting. Here are a few symptoms of lower back pain:The pain worsens while walking, bending, twisting, or any other kind of body movement.Slow numbness and tingling in legs.Rarely, weight loss can also happen with lower back pain.You can reduce these symptoms of lower back pain after yoga.
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How Can I Reduce Lower Back Pain With Yoga
Simply put, the movementsand the isometric, or movement-free, holdsused in yoga can help you build both strength and mobility, both of which play a role in reducing low back pain.
“Yoga is great for working on flexibility and core stability, correcting posture, and breathingall of which are necessary for a healthy back,”Sasha Cyrelson, P.T., D.P.T., O.C.S., clinical director at Professional Physical Therapy in Sicklerville, New Jersey, tells SELF.
She adds that yoga is generally safe to do daily. It’s important, though, to make sure you’re in tune with your body and to stop doing anything that makes any discomfort worse.
“Never stretch into a position of pain, Dr. Cyrelson says. Pain is how our bodies tell us something is wrong. If it actually hurts, ease up on the stretch.” That means you should feel a combination of muscle tension and release, but if theres any pinching, sharp pain, or brief numbness, ease way back on the stretch.
Starting Yoga If You Have Back Pain
Talk to your doctor first about whether its okay to begin a yoga program if you suffer from low back pain. Dr. Elson suggests staying away from yoga if you have certain back problems, such as a spinal fracture or a herniated disc.
Once you have the green light, you can protect your back by telling your yoga instructor beforehand about specific pain and limitations. He or she can give you protective modifications for certain poses, or help guide you through a pose to ensure you do it correctly without stressing your back. Another option is to look for yoga studios or community centers that offer classes specifically designed for back pain relief.
Remember that the stretching and lengthening yoga movements are often what your low back needs to feel better, so dont be afraid to give it a try. “By mindfully practicing yoga, people can safely improve their mobility and strength while stretching tight and aching back muscles,” says Dr. Elson.
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How Can We Avoid Lower Back Pain While Working From Home
Youve no doubt played musical chairs in your house several times a day so far, moving from the sofa to the bed, over to the kitchen stool and the dining room chairs to find a comfortable sitting position to do your work to no avail.
However with a lack of access to ergonomic office chairs to provide support and relief for our muscles and joints, many of us are experiencing pain in our lower backs from being hunched over at our laptops or sat at the wrong height to complete our work.
As a result, several of our yoga experts have suggested exercises to help loosen up our joints and keep our core and back muscles strong.
They all agree that it is essential to get up from your chair and move around frequently.
If possible move your desktop around. I go from the floor, to a bolster, to a chair to standing, suggests yoga teacher and movement coach Kim Hartwell. Often we get pain in the lower back as a result of tight hips and hamstrings. Its more often than not that these muscles are actually weak too, so the best thing we can do is strengthening exercises like squats, lunges, bridges rather than stretching alone stretching.
Meanwhile, yoga teacher Georgia Wood advises workers to come into a childs pose with wide knees and practice some cat, cows to break up your working positions.
While many people believed that doing backbends will ease lower back pain, yoga teacher Lydiana Abbott says that, in her experience, it can actually exacerbate issues.
Yoga Poses To Avoid If You Have Back Pain
Camel Pose Photo: Shutterstock.
Typically, yoga is one of the better things we can do to open up the stiff parts of the body and alleviate pain. Much of the time, yoga poses loosen up knots and release stored tension. However, back pain can be particularly complicated, and sometimes, certain yoga poses can make back pain worse. Below are 5 poses that arent necessarily bad for everyones back, but they can definitely be problematic for those already dealing with serious back pain.
I wouldnt say I have severe back pain, but I have some, and this pose definitely bothers my back. Camel is designed to stretch out the front side of the body, especially the abdominals and chest, but it also puts a lot of pressure on the lower back. This can cause problems if you have low back issues or disk issues. If you do attempt this pose, be sure to offer lower back support with your hands as you ease into it.
Full Wheel Pose
Full Wheel Pose. Photo: Shutterstock.
Boat Pose Photo: Shutterstock.
This pose is much more moderate compared to the first two, and many people dont have a problem doing it. However, it does require you to tilt your lumbar spine in a way that can cause flare ups for certain people. If you commonly experience back pain, use extra caution when going into boat pose. For a more comfortable version, try tucking the pelvis.
Shoulder Stand Photo: Shutterstock.
Seated Forward Fold
Seated Forward Fold Photo: Shutterstock.
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What Are The Common Lower Back Pain Causes
Here are some of them: Sitting too long: Sustained sitting can put pressure on your spine, causing discomfort or even severe lower back pain. If you work at a desk for eight hours every day, consider getting up for five minutes every hour . A slipped disc is when one of your discs loses fluid and pushes against a nearby nerve root in your spine. Nerves run from your spinal cord out through small openings called foramina. When a slipped disc occurs, it puts pressure on these nerves which can result in radiating pain down into your legs or arms.
What Actually Hurts When We Have Lower Back Pain
Your lower back consists of the five lumbar vertebrae at the bottom of your spine . The lumbar vertebrae are the largest when compared to the rest of your spine and help support your upper and lower body, allow you to twist and move your torso, and protect your spinal cord. There is also a complex network of ligaments, muscles, and tendons here to help everything move properly and stay in place.
The lumbar region handles high stress and heavy loads when youre walking, running, lifting, carrying, or doing just about anythingwhich is why its no surprise that lower back pain is so common.
There are a few issues that can cause lower back pain. A bulging disk happens when the cushioning between your vertebrae gets compressed and cant do its job properly. Herniated disks can cause pinched nerves. But often, lower back pain is a symptom of a strain or tear that occurred as a result of weakened muscles.
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Half Lord Of The Fishes
Come on baby, lets do the twist! This twisting position radiates energy into your spine and back. Its also a good stretch for your hips, neck, and shoulders. If youre feeling fatigue, this pose will help alleviate that pain.
Back Benefits Of A Yoga Practice
Every morning is the same.
You wake up and slowly roll out of bed before grunting and shuffling your way to the bathroom. You can’t remember the last time you woke up without a stiff, painful back.
But you do remember how your adventure with back pain started. Blame it on an old football war injury. Back issues have followed you around since High School.
Up until you were about 18, you were the picture of health. You were on the varsity football team, and you were preparing for one of the biggest games of the year. It was senior day and if you won you were in the playoffs.
As the starting tight-end, your team depended on you a lot. And a couple of minutes into the game you caught a pass over the middle before getting torpedoed in the lower-back.
You remember it like yesterday. At the time, it hurt but didnt seem that bad. Your adrenaline carried you through the game. But when you woke up the next morning you could hardly move.
Flash-forward 20 years and youre still suffering the effects of that hit. The pain and stiffness comes and goes, but it seems like the injury is there for the long-run.
You were talking to an old football teammate who dealt with back pain just like you. He recommended that you try yoga as a way to rehab, heal, and strengthen your back.
At first, you scoffed and laughed it off. How can something so girly and light make a difference? Youre a football player by nature, not a ballerina or some monk.
How Yoga Helps Build a Healthy Back
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