You Can Use Yoga For Back Pain–Here’s How
© Jessica Skye
You don’t need me to tell you that yoga strengthens the mind body connection. However, did you know this age-old practice improves proprioception, strengthens neuro pathways and can unblock neurological blind spots too? This is why yoga for back pain – often triggered by sitting or standing in a bad position – has dropped its hippy-dippy status and is now recognized by the NHS.
When it comes to back pain, your first thought is to identify why suddenly, you’re feeling sore. However, pin-pointing the moment that you went ‘ouch’ isn’t always that easy. Sadly, there are a vast number of reasons that cause back pain ranging from tight hamstrings, bad posture, a poor desk setup, repetitive strain and genetics. Unless your back pain is injury related, knowing your trigger is tough.
Enter: yoga for back pain.
A regular yoga practice tasks your whole body and activates muscles that haven’t had any action for years. Many yoga moves are isometric and require core stability muscles –front, back and side flanks – to switch on. A strong core promises a stable torso, better posture and strong muscles to support a well-formed frame. This helps future-proof your body.
As you age, the soft discs between your vertebra become less-supple, with the likelihood of a disc either rupturing or bulging increasing. They can also increase the pressure on nerves, which you’d notice as pain. But specific yoga asanas done regularly can both prevent and relieve back pain symptoms.
Before you begin tackling yoga for back pain
First off, always seek medical advice before self-treating a bad back. A bodywork professional, such as a yoga teacher, can help in the healing process but only when problems that require medical attention have been ruled out.
Already attend a yoga class? Make sure your instructor is aware of your bad back so they can suggest alternative modifications that work for your body and imbalances.
Choosing a class
Now is the time to be kinder to yourself. Classes that are slower and less physically taxing, such as Yin Yoga or Iyengar Yoga, allow you the time to check in with how you feel in the postures and have an awareness of niggles as you come out of them. Advanced classes, like Rocket and Power Yoga, often do not. Their speedy flows require fast muscular contractions, which can cause muscles to seize. If your alignment isn’t correct in the advanced postures you’re more likely to cause further (or new) injuries.
Back pain exercises you can try at home
As mentioned, there is a myriad of reasons why you can wake up one day and suffer from back pain. This means one magic yoga pose to fix back ache doesn't exist. But that shouldn’t stop you from pushing back the sofa, rolling out your best yoga mat and embracing self-care.
• Be kind to your body and if you feel any strain in your back, reduce your range of motion or skip the pose completely
• Take deep breaths and do not rush through the exercises
• Pick and mix the poses depending on your trigger
Lower back pain caused by tight hamstrings
A common cause of lower back pain is tight hamstrings.
Do poses 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 & 6
Why? Forward folds, whether standing or seated, help release the seams that run up the back of the body. As does Pyramid pose but make sure you scissor your legs to avoid twisting through the lower back.
Pain from sitting at a desk
Sitting in a chair, hunching over a desk and putting off going to the toilet to finish your last email is a common occurrence in the workplace. But so is lower back pain. A sedentary work life can overwork the back muscles, causing them to tense up.
Do poses 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, & 8
Why? Chest openers will help balance out the days you’ve spent hunched over. Shoulder openers create space, while twists increase mobility. Be sure to twist from above the bra-line as your lower back only bends, the thoracic (part with ribs attached) can twist.
Approach this back condition with caution and only when you’ve been given the all clear by a medical professional.
Do pose 7.
Why? Side planks can help to re-align the spine. If the spine curve to the right side, then hold a plank with the right hand supporting the pose.
Herniated discs, broken backs and other spinal conditions
It’s best to keep moving but this needs to be safe. Private classes and/ or small groups are advised and always speak to a professional to get tailored and considered instruction.
8 YOGA FOR BACK PAIN EXERCISES
1. MODIFIED FORWARD FOLD
Aim: Create length.
Target area: Calves, hamstrings and erector spinae (back muscles).
How to: Bring feet hip width apart, jack tail bone up, lengthen through the spine and draw shoulders away from ears.
Modification: Go deeper by straightening legs. Or, ease off from tight hamstrings by popping blocks under hands to keep the spine straight.
2. FORWARD FOLD
Aim: Create length.
Target area: Calves, hamstrings and erector spinae.
How to: Bring your feet together, bend at the knees and grab opposite elbows behind your legs. Tilt your tailbone to the ceiling to lengthen hamstrings as you release lower back.
Modifications: Go deeper by straightening legs and pressing your legs into your arms to open the space between your shoulder blades. Ease off by bending at the knees.
3. SEATED FORWARD FOLD
Target area: Calves, hamstrings, chest and erector spinae.
Aim: Create length and space.
How to: Sit with your legs out long, tilt tailbone back to lengthen your hamstrings, flex through your heels – this lengthens calves. Broaden across your collarbone as you lean forward while your keeping chest open and drawing belly button towards thighs.
Modification: Go deeper be leaning further forward (see pic 4), or ease off by using a strap to maintain length through spine and openness through chest.
Aim: Create length.
Target Area: Calves, Hamstrings & erector spinae.
How to: Stand with your feet together. Scissor your legs into a medium stride. Frame your front foot flat and frame with either hand. Rise onto the ball of your back foot to keep hips square and lower your back in neutral position (with no twist). Lengthen through your spine keeping ears away from shoulders.
Modification: Go deeper be leaning further forward bringing your nose to your knee. Or, ease off by using blocks under each hand.
5. INTERLACED FORWARD FOLD
Aim: Create length and space.
Target area: Calves, Hamstrings, erector spinae, shoulder girdle.
How to: Take feet a little wider than hip width and bring your big toes in line. Interlace fingers behind your back, roll shoulders back, open your chest, then hinge at your hips to fold forwards drawing your arms over head. Lengthen through the crown of your head towards the floor. Gravity will do the work here, balancing compression on the spine and undoing any hunching forwards.
Modification: Complete normal forward fold.
6. SIDE PLANK
Aim: Create core strength and help realign posture.
Target area: Arms, shoulder girdle, core muscles.
How to: Bring your supporting palm flat and stack shoulder over the wrist the press your hips up to the ceiling.
Modification: Ease off by lowering bottom knee to floor for support and to keep form.
7. SEATED TWIST
Aim: Aid mobility.
Target area: Thoracic spine.
How to: Start seated and bend one knee bringing your foot close to your bum with your foot flat on the floor. Reach your opposite arm to the ceiling to lengthen flank then hook raised elbow outside of the bent knee. Inhale as you lengthen through the crown of your head to the ceiling, exhale as your twist (from the bra line) and look behind you.