Yoga for Back Pain

Chances are, you have experienced back pain! It’s the…

  • Most common cause of limited activity in people below the age of 45…
  • Second most frequent reason for visits to a physician…
  • Third most common reason for surgery…
  • Fifth most common cause of hospital admission!

These figures are from the United States in 1999 (Andersson et al., 1999), but I am sure that the current UK figures are not much different, as there’s just as much desk work, lifting children, manual labour, stress, and those random movements that suddenly cause a back ache!

 

Does Yoga Help your Back?

There is a common belief that yoga is helpful for a ‘bad back’, but some people also think they shouldn’t start yoga for fear of aggravating their ‘bad back’.

So what is yoga….

helpful or a hindrance for the back?

Personally, I believe my (almost) daily yoga practice is a life-saver for my back. Helping me keep it strong enough to survive the constant picking up and putting back down of a toddler.

Yet… sometimes for a shot while after my yoga practice my back feels a little more delicate. This feeling is always gone within hours or latest the next day, so I take it as being like a muscle ache. Temporary discomfort, yet long-term increased strength!

But that’s just me!

What does the science say???

 

Science on Yoga for Back Pain

There have been many studies evaluating whether yoga improved persistent back pain in a variety of groups. Chang and colleagues (2016) systematically searched the published studies and found 14 interventions of good quality that compared a control group and a yoga group.

These are just some of the findings….

Significant reductions in functional disability, back pain intensity, medication use and depression after 24-weeks of Iyengar yoga (compared with a control group) (Williams et al., 2005; 2009).

A greater improvement in flexibility and reduction in back pain after 7 days of meditation, yoga exercise, chanting and yoga lectures, compared with a control group who also followed a daily routine of exercise, non-yogic breathing exercises, educational lectures and additionally filled their time watching nature programs. (Tekur et al., 2008; 2010)

Significantly better back function after a a 12-week yoga program versus a control group who received a back pain education booklet for low back pain patients (Tilbrook et al., 2011). This improvement remained at 3, 6, and 12 months after the yoga program!

This is just a snap shot of the findings section in the review by Chang et al. (2016).

 

Is Yoga a Risk for the Back?

Chang et al. (2016) found that ‘adverse events’ were equally common in the yoga groups as in the control groups, and reasoned that it was not surprising to see some adverse events, given that all these subjects generally already had back-pain to start with!

Yet, as I mentioned before, it is possible for you to feel more sensations, achy-ness and tenderness in the back after a yoga practice that has exercised this part of your body well!

Indeed one study did report 11 incidences (out of 156 participants) of temporarily increased back pain after yoga which was deemed non-serious (Tilbrook et al. 2011).

So! What do YOU make of this?

My opinion remains that while short-term discomfort may be induced at times… yoga improves back-health in the long term.

 

How can Yoga help the Back?

There is less research on exactly WHY yoga might help the back, so here is my own understanding of it…

 

1. Keeping your back and core muscles strong

You’ve all heard that to protect your back you need a strong core. Well, the muscles that protect the spine go all the way around it!

Many yoga poses such as balance poses, Boat pose, plank, Chataranga Dandasana (low plank), and the whole Sun-Salutation sequence all increase the strength of these muscles (like a corset around your lower back).

When these muscles are strong and when you automatically engage them while moving around, you decrease the chances of putting unhealthy strain on the back.

 

2. Stretching out tightened muscles that pull on the vertebrae

Various muscles are attached to the vertebrae of the spine. If these are very tight, they can start to pull constantly, causing posture changes or directly causing pain.

One example is the Psoas Major (there is one either side of the spine, see image below). When this is tight it will pull the lower spine forward (think belly out, bum back), and eventually cause low back pain.

To stretch the Psoas Major we need to do hip extension, which you find in Upward-Facing Dog, a deep lunge, Camel Pose, Frog Pose, and Half-Pigeon when arching the back (and any other back bending poses). (Find these in my Sun Salutation, Flexibility for Cyclists, and Mini Back Bend classes.

Another example is the Quadratus Lumborum (see image below). This can get very tight after a lot of sitting, and will then pull on the places where it is attached. Gate Pose is a lovely way to stretch this! (Find this in my Mini Back Release class).

3. Counteracting long-held positions from daily life

In daily life many of us sit for hoooooours on end. This means we are rounding the lower back more than is natural. This could cause a slow shift in the spine to remain in this position. In this case, practicing gentle back bending postures (arching the back) can help counteract this excessive rounding.

Anything else you do repeatedly or for a long time will also have an effect on your spine’s position.

Can you think of what you do regularly?

How do you need to balance out YOUR spine to avoid/alleviate a bad back?

So let’s do some Yoga!

I invite you to follow a class to help you strengthen and/or stretch your back.

We’re all different, but these classes might feel nice/be good for long-term strengthening…

Mini Back Release (20 minutes)

Sun Salutation (20 minutes)

Flexibility for Cyclists (35 minutes)

Mini Back Bend (10 minutes)

Mini Back Strength (15 minutes)

Open your diary and pan it in!

❤️

I hope you enjoyed my ramblings today. 🤓 Please feel free to add your comments below!

Love,

Jolanthe x

Strength, Posture & Mindfulness

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Love, Jolanthe x

References

Andersson GB. Epidemiological features of chronic low-back pain. Lancet. 1999; 354:581–585. [PubMed: 10470716]

Chang DG, Holt JA, Sklar M, Groessl EJ. Yoga as a treatment for chronic low back pain: A systematic review of the literature. Journal of orthopedics & rheumatology. 2016 Jan 1;3(1):1.

Tekur P, Singphow C, Nagendra HR, Raghuram N. Effect of short-term intensive yoga program on pain, functional disability and spinal flexibility in chronic low back pain: a randomized control study. J Altern Complement Med. 2008; 14:637–644. [PubMed: 18673078]

Tekur P, Chametcha S, Hongasandra RN, Raghuram N. Effect of yoga on quality of life of CLBP patients: A randomized control study. Int J Yoga. 2010; 3:10–17. [PubMed: 20948896]

Tilbrook HE, Cox H, Hewitt CE, Kang’ombe AR, Chuang LH, et al. Yoga for chronic low back pain: a randomized trial. Ann Intern Med. 2011; 155:569–578. [PubMed: 22041945]

Williams KA, Petronis J, Smith D, Goodrich D, Wu J, et al. Effect of Iyengar yoga therapy for chronic low back pain. Pain. 2005; 115:107–117. [PubMed: 15836974]

Williams K, Abildso C, Steinberg L, Doyle E, Epstein B, et al. Evaluation of the effectiveness and efficacy of Iyengar yoga therapy on chronic low back pain. Spine (Phila Pa 1976). 2009; 34:2066– 2076. [PubMed: 19701112]