Category: Stretching & mobility

Ask a Yogi: What poses can I do to ease low back pain?

Whenever I teach yoga at workplaces, low back pain seems to be a common problem area.

In fact, back pain is the second most common reason for visiting MDs, the top for chiropractors, and leading cause of disability of people under forty five. Doctors used to recommend bed rest to treat low back pain--ironically, not moving to prevent further strain is actually counterproductive. The longer you stay sedentary, the more muscle mass you lose. The best treatment uses gentle movement and strengthening.

Yoga examines posture, strength, mobility, and emotional states to treat back pain with a holistic approach.

The low back supports the weight of the upper body and provides mobility for everyday motions such as bending and twisting. Our lower back is the area with the most nerve endings in the back. It also produces the largest range of motion in the spine, so when we back bend our lower back does the majority of the bending as it compresses. To maintain good posture, we must encourage a healthy curve of the low spine. Our backs require certain amounts of compression, strengthening, and stretching. Yoga does all three to maintain the physical health of your back. It also helps develop the mind-body connection that brings awareness to the subtle signals in the body. For instance, we might catch ourselves slouching at our desks or notice how mental stress translates into physical stress in our backs.

WHAT CAUSES LOW BACK PAIN?

Everyone's back pain stems from unique causes. There are 4 main causes (and perhaps more!) of low back pain.

  1. Weak core and leg muscles - muscles in our abs, back, and legs play a critical role in supporting your lower spine.  And 100 crunches is not a cure-all. Your core will not be worked by doing crunches alone, there are a lot of muscles there that support the spine. Obliques and low back extensor muscles are especially helpful for holding an upright posture.
  2. Stress (in every context of the word) - When we are mentally or emotionally charged, the body responds with tension. Prolonged physical stress on the back also leads to chronic tension and pain. Back pain is connected to psychological stress. Breathing and relaxation techniques help calm stress related responses.
  3. Tightness in legs - The health of your lumbar spine is directly affected by the action of the hip flexors (aka psoas) and hamstrings. Everything is connected!
  4. Misalignment - Hunching shoulders and forward neck position can lead to back problems. When we sitting for prolonged periods, the natural tendency for most people is to slouch over and sit with the pelvis tilted forward. This posture can overstretch the spinal ligaments and cause the low back to round. That's why some compression and strengthening is necessary to maintain the curve of the lower back. I've also heard so many stories about people with complications in their knees and hips that end up with back pain while trying to favor one side of the body. If you do encounter an injury in your body, be aware of movement patterns that could lead to injuries elsewhere in the body.

POSES/STRETCHES THAT WORK

Strengthen

Locust pose

Baby Cobra

Warrior 3

Bridge pose

Triangle

Compress

Sphinx pose

Dancer pose

Reclined hero pose - not for acute pain

Stretch

Lying hamstring stretch

Spinal twist

Forward fold

Low lunge

Reclined pigeon pose

Cat/cow

Thread needle with arm reach

Restorative Poses to Ease Back Pain

Child's pose

Supported shoulder stand

Restorative savasana with cushion under knees

Resources 

McCall, T. (2007). Yoga as Medicine. New York, NY: Random House Publishing.

Peloza, J. (2017). Low Back Pain Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment. https://www.spine-health.com/conditions/lower-back-pain/lower-back-pain-symptoms-diagnosis-and-treatment

Ask a Yogi: What are the best poses for a quick stretch?

When yoga students ask me what they should do for a quick stretch, I’m often hesitant to give them a straight answer unless I know them well enough. Sometimes, I’ll tell them some of my go-to poses that target general weak spots for most people┬álike anjaneyasana or gomukasana… Continue reading “Ask a Yogi: What are the best poses for a quick stretch?”