Why Is Yoga Useful for Chronic Back Pain?
Yoga is a unique form of activity that emphasizes relaxation, exercise, and recovery all in one. This is why it’s so useful for a number of conditions, ranging from anxiety to mobility and beyond. Using yoga for chronic back pain can be an effective tool for managing nagging, non-specific back pain and improving your quality of life.
Studies have shown that certain yoga poses which emphasize back extension can help people suffering from back pain. These poses can strengthen back muscles, improve mobility, and bring oxygenated blood to the area, which can all help reduce acute pain and lead to overall improvements in pain management.
It should be noted, however, that if you are using yoga to treat lower back pain, you should be either highly experienced with the practice or working under the care of a trained professional.
It’s also essential to keep it light when using yoga to treat back pain. Don’t make yourself uncomfortable or attempt to get into positions that are overly challenging. Go slow and work within your limits.
Another crucial point is that using yoga to help treat back pain is not recommended in cases where the pain is resulting from an acute injury. Rather, it is meant to help people who regularly experience inexplicable and diagnosable pain. That is, pain likely to be a result of sitting for extended periods, having a sedentary lifestyle, stress, or moderate muscle tightness.
If the pain is due to a specific condition like a herniated disc, fracture, impact, or another type of acute injury or diagnosed condition, it’s best to follow the protocol of your doctor and rehabilitative specialist.
If they suggest yoga as a viable option for treatment, do it only under the care of a supervised rehabilitative yoga specialist.
Yoga Asanas for Chronic Back Pain
There are a number of yoga poses to perform that may be able to help with lower back pain. Here is a list of positions that you can try to bring relief to your pain and greater health and joy to your life.
1. Tadasana (Mountain Pose)
With this position, it’s important to remember to stack your joints and keep your back and legs straight and strong. You may even find yourself breaking a sweat. Here’s how to do it:
- Stand with your big toes touching.
- Lift all your toes off the floor and fan them out, dropping them back down to create a wide, firm base.
- If your ankles are uncomfortably close or knocking together, separate your heels slightly.
- Push your calves and feet down into the floor, like you’re trying to plant yourself.
- Engage your thigh muscles and squeeze them. Draw them upwards.
- Slowly rotate the thighs inward.
- Maintain your spine’s natural curvature.
- Draw in your belly by tightening the abdominal muscles.
- Drawback your shoulders (if needed) to ensure they are stacked over the pelvis.
- Shrug your shoulders up to your ears and roll them back, retracting the scapula. Then, release them so your arms hang.
- Let the arms hang naturally with a slight bend to the elbow and forward-facing palms.
- You should be looking straight ahead.
- Ensure all alignment points are intact, that you’re standing straight with stacked joints, and hold the position for five to 10 breaths.
2. Virabhadrasana I (Warrior I Pose)
- Stand up straight, then spread your legs apart three or four feet (at least).
- Rotate your right foot outwards by about 90 degrees and turn your left foot inwards roughly 15 degrees. Check to see if the heel of your right foot is aligned to the center of your left foot.
- Lift both arms sideways to shoulder height with palms facing upwards.
- As you breathe out, bend your right knee. Ensure there is a straight line between your right knee and right ankle. Your knee should not be extended past your ankle.
- Turn your head and look to the right.
- As you settle into your yoga posture, stretch your arms slightly further.
- Make a gentle effort to push your pelvis down and make a concerted effort to hold onto your yoga posture. Breathe as you make your descent.
- As you come up back up, breathe in.
- Breathe out and lower your outstretched arms.
- Repeat for the left side.
3. Urdhva Mukha Svanasana (Half Upward-Facing Dog Pose)
This position focuses on lengthening and strengthening the lower back, making it an ideal pose to help ease pain.
- Lie face down on the floor with your legs extended behind you, spread a few inches apart. The tops of your feet should be flat on the floor.
- Place your hands on the floor alongside your body, next to your lower ribs.
- Point your fingers forward and tuck your elbows close to your ribcage.
- Inhale as you press your hands firmly into the floor, until your arms are straight. Your torso should be elevated with your upper legs a few inches off the ground.
- Press down firmly through the tops of your feet and engage your leg muscles to ensure your thighs remain raised off the floor.
- With your elbows remaining close to your body, drop your shoulders and lift your chest towards the ceiling.
- Draw your shoulders back and bring your head forward, but avoid crunching your neck. Based on your mobility, you can tilt your head to look upwards or look straight ahead.
- Thighs should be firm and tilted slightly inwards. Arms should also be tight.
- Only straighten your arms to your body’s capabilities. You will be able to deepen the stretch with experience, but don’t strain to achieve a deeper bend if you’re incapable at the moment.
- Actively drive your shoulder blades into the upper back, keeping your elbows tucked. Broaden your shoulders and lift your chest.
- Hold the pose for 30 seconds with an evenly distributed back bend and exhale as you slowly return to the starting to position.
4. Revolved Triangle Pose (Parivrtta Trikonasana)
- Stand up straight with your feet close together and toes pointed forward.
- Exhale and step so your feet are roughly three to four feet apart.
- Raise your arms parallel the floor and reach to the sides. Your palms should be facing down and your shoulder blades should be wide.
- Turn your left foot inwards between 45 and 60 degrees and your right foot outwards roughly 90 degrees.
- Ensure your heels are aligned.
- Firm your thighs and turn your right thigh outward. The center of your right kneecap should be in line with the center of your right ankle.
- Exhale and turn your torso to the right.
- Square your hips as much as possible to face as close to forward as you can.
- Bring the left hip around to the right, resisting thigh movement, and firmly press your left heel into the ground.
- Exhale again and turn your torso further to the right and lean forward over your front leg.
- Reach your left hand down, either to the floor or, if the floor is too far, a block positioned against your inner right foot). Allow your left hip to drop slightly towards the floor.
- During this movement, actively press the outer right thigh to the left and release the right hip from the right shoulder. Use your right hand for to help stabilize if necessary, by hooking your thumb into the right hip crease.
- Keep your head in a neutral position (facing forwards). If you’re experienced, you can look up.
- From the center of your back between the shoulder blades, press your arms away from your torso and shift most of the weight to your back heel and front hand.
- Hold for about 30 seconds, exhale, and return to the starting position before doing the other side.
5. Ardha Uttanasana (Half Forward Bend)
- Stand up straight and bend forward, entering uttanasana position.
- Come up onto your fingertips, raise your head, draw your shoulders back, and straighten your spine.
- Do not lock your knees; allow for a slight bend.
- Step back into a lunge, or flatten your palms to the floor and move to a chaturanga position (low plank).
6. Sphinx Pose (Salamba Bhujangasana)
- Lie on your stomach with your toes and the tops of your feet flat on the floor and your forehead resting on the ground.
- Keep your legs close together and your heels and feet in slight contact.
- Stretch your hands in front of you with palms down and arms extended along the ground.
- Take a deep breath in and slowly lift your head, chest, and upper abdomen off the ground.
- Ensure your navel remains in contact with the floor.
- Pull your torso back and off the floor, supporting yourself with your arms.
- Breathe as you curve your spine through each individual vertebra.
- Feet should still be close together and your head should be facing forward.
- Breathe out and gently return to the starting position.
7. Locust Pose (Salabhasana)
- Lie flat on the floor with your chin touching the ground, legs together, and arms alongside your body, angled at roughly 45 degrees from the torso with palms down.
- Pull your knees up by contracting your thighs and butt. Engage the Mula Bandha (pelvic floor lift) position and press your pelvic bone towards the floor.
- Inhale and lift your legs, head, chest, and arms from the floor.
- Drop your shoulders down and back (retract your scapula) and your press chest forward. Keep the legs and butt strong, maintaining a strong press from the pelvic bone into the floor.
- Breathe and hold for up to six breaths before slowly returning to the starting position.
8. Supta Padangusthasana (Reclining Big Toe Pose)
- Lie on your back with your legs outstretched.
- Bend your right knee and pull your left knee up close to your chest, hugging it.
- Place a yoga strap around the ball of your right foot. Hold the ends of the strap with your hand (one in each).
- Straighten your right leg up towards the ceiling while tightly gripping the strap.
- Stretch your right leg upwards and flex your foot, keeping your hips on the ground.
- Keep your left foot flexed and the left leg pressing towards the floor.
- Hold the right leg up for five to 10 breaths.
- Slowly return to the starting position and do the left side.
9. Utthita Parsvakonasana (Extended Side Angle)
- Start in the Warrior 2 pose (standing tall with your right knee bent and right arm extended forward and left arm extended backward). Bring your right elbow down so it rests on your right knee.
- Bring your left arm up towards the ceiling and extend it over your ear. The left side of your body should be a straight line.
- Keep your right knee bent over your right ankle and bring the hips down slightly towards the floor.
- Reach your left fingers away from your left foot.
- Breathe and hold for six breaths and return to the starting position. Do the other side.
Research Supports Yoga’s Role in Back Pain Treatment
Low back pain encompasses a number of sensations, from a dull, constant ache to sudden, sharp pain that can limit mobility and leave you incapacitated. Studies in people with mild-to-severe back pain have all shown yoga as an effective tool for pain reduction, management, and improved quality of life.
A 2017 study from the Boston University School of Medicine and Boston Medical Center took 320 racially diverse, predominantly low-income (who tend to suffer back pain at higher rates) individuals with moderate to severe chronic low back pain. They wanted to learn how yoga stacked up against current physical therapy treatment methods.
Participants were randomly assigned to one of the following three programs:
- 12 weekly yoga classes designed specifically for people with chronic back pain
- 15 physical therapy sessions over 12 weeks
- Educational book and newsletters about self-care for chronic back pain\
Researcher continued to track the participants’ progress for an additional 40 weeks, during which time the people in the yoga and physical therapy groups were randomly assigned to practice either at home or with a professional at yoga classes or physical therapy clinics.
People who were in the yoga or physical therapy groups reported significantly greater pain reduction and physical function than the educational group (although that group saw benefits, too). The participants in the yoga and physical therapy groups were also far more likely to stop using painkillers after a year.
Other studies have shown similar results, indicating that yoga is a safe and viable option for treating chronic low back pain effectively.
Precautions to Take
Yoga is an acquired skill, and as helpful it can be in treating back pain, it can also make pain worse if performed improperly. Therefore, if you’ve never tried yoga but are interested in its benefits for chronic back pain, it’s highly advised you learn from a specialist.
Moreover, because you’ll be using the yoga for therapeutic purposes, it’s best to seek a specialized rehabilitative instructor that is part of health network. Taking a class at your local community center, for example, might not be the best idea.
Another precaution to take is to perform low-impact yoga. Once again, you want to keep in mind your current physical limitations and work within them. Don’t overextend yourself or put yourself at risk of injury or further pain. Go slowly, learn proper technique, and continue to progress.
Lastly, if you have back pain resulting from an injury or a specific condition such as a herniated disc, consult with your medical professional before attempting yoga. These types of injuries can be worsened with yoga, especially if you’re not under the care of a medical or rehabilitative professional. Yoga is not always advisable in certain circumstances.
Yoga for Chronic Back Pain: A Viable Option for Treating Pain, Improving Functionality, and Regaining Control Over Your Life
Using yoga for chronic back pain relief so you no longer rely on painkillers to get through life is a real bonus. Yoga has a series of health benefits that can restore comfort and order to your life, and is a worthwhile, healthy way to boost joy. Learn how to perform these yoga poses and watch your lower back pain subside.
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