Back pain can be caused by sitting, standing, doing nothing or sprinting. Back pain affects all ages and sadly, 85 percent of the U.S. population suffers from back pain. It’s the second most common reason for seeing a doctor in the United States followed by coughs and other respiratory infections.
Back pain is the third most common reason for surgery and to make it worse, failed back surgery syndrome is seen in 10-40 percent of patients who undergo back surgery. Not only does the surgery not fix the original problem, but more issues result from surgeries than were present before surgery! Fewer than 5 percent of people with back pain actually make good candidates for surgery. According to a recent article in USA Today, “The U.S. health care system spends about as much each year on spine problems as it does on cancer.” With statistics like these, it’s no wonder that people are looking for alternative treatments for back pain. Before going under the knife, consider how a consistent yoga practice may reduce your back pain.
The Power Of Yoga To Treat Back Pain
While severe back pain due to a recent injury should always be examined by a doctor, chronic and moderate-level back pain can often be assisted with the power of yoga. Yoga naturally helps strengthen and lengthen your spine, stretch your muscles, and fix your back’s alignment, which can often be at the root cause of persistent back pain for those of us who sit at a desk all day.
In fact, according to a study in the Archives of Internal Medicine, chronic back pain sufferers who practiced yoga on a regular basis were half as likely to need pain pills or over the counter treatments for their pain as non-yogis. There are specific yoga poses that help to alleviate back pain more than others, and they have been outlined below. Do the following pain-relieving yoga sequence two to three times a week to start feeling back pain relief.
12 Yoga Poses That Reduce Back Pain
Start with some deep breathing exercises in and out of the nose called pranayama. Prana means life force or energy and yama means extension. Just think of a slight lengthening as you inhale and a releasing as you exhale. You will want to continue this practice of breath awareness through each of the following poses for 3-5 rounds or more depending on the time you have available. So grab your yoga mat and let’s go!
1. Child’s Pose
Start on the hands and knees and sit hips back towards the heels. Bring the big toes together and keep the knees together to create support to round the back over the legs and get into the thoracic spine. Child’s pose lengthens and stretches the spine while relieving tension in the neck and shoulders. You can also try using a block under the the forehead for more relief. You can come back here as often as needed.
From child’s pose, rise up to hands and knees. For Cow: Lift the chin up and drop the belly to the mat as you look up arching the tail bone upward, then round the spine upward dropping the tailbone down as you look back to the thighs, like a cats back. Try this a couple times slowly, wallowing in each pose to feel the stretch, then move with the breath for few times: inhaling as you move into Cow Pose with the chin and tail bone up, exhale into Cat Pose. Movement with the breath is called vinyasa and this will create some synovial fluid along the spine which will lubricate the back, making it feel more supple.
3. Downward Dog
Come on to the balls of the feet and lift the hips up, then release the heels down toward the mat. This is another option to come back to in between poses. Downward dog lengthens and strengthens at the same time. It’s also a big stretch for the hamstrings which can be the root of back pain. Take some time here to pedal the feet, twist the hips and rock side to side.
Crescent lunge helps open up the hips which can significantly impact the back. It’s a great pose for sciatica. Step right foot forward between the hands. Aim to place the foot right below the knee so the shin is vertical. You can keep hands on the mat for balance or reach the arms up over your head to lengthen the spine and open the chest. Add a twist: lift your right hand up, with the left hand by the right foot and rotate the chest into the thigh or upwards. Twists are great for improving spinal range of motion. Repeat on the left side and come back child pose or down dog.
5. Warrior 1
Bring the right foot between the hands and bend the right knee, release the back foot down to the mat and lift the body and arms up. Think of bringing the back hip forward so that the hips are aligned. This creates some twist in the low back. Warrior 1 is an energizing pose that creates stability and improves balance. Having better posture can significantly impact and alleviate back pain.
Straighten the right leg and reach right hand forward and down to right leg. You can make contact above the knee, on the shin, foot, floor or use a block and place the hand on the block near the front foot. Left arm is up and chest is open to the side. Triangle pose gets into the spinal nerves and strengthens the lower back.
Legs stay the same, switch the arms so left hand is down toward right leg and right arm is reaching up. Revolved triangle is another pose that improves balance with the help of the internal and external obliques. This pose activates the spine! Repeat on left side
8. Locust Pose
Lie face down on your belly and lift the chest and legs up off the mat. You can take arms by your side, reaching fingers behind you. This is complete activation of the entire back of the body. Locust pose with strengthen and elongate all the muscles along the spine.
9. One Leg Forward Fold
Seated, extend the left leg out in front of you and bend the right knee, letting it fall open to side like half butterfly. Reach forward and fold softly over the legs. Switch sides after three breaths. This pose will get into the hip and psoas which when inflamed can significantly stress the back. Try not to force this, but just relax in the pose for optimal release in the spine.
10. Knees To Chest
Lie down on your back and hug knees up into chest. This has the same affects as child’s pose without the impact on the knees. It rounds and releases. You can gently rock right to left for a gentle massage on the spine.
Keep the knees bent and drop them to the right as you turn your head to the left. Switch sides after three to five breaths. Twists relieve pressure in the low back and encourage spinal range of motion.
Place a pillow or blanket under the knees and lie down with arms by side. This final pose, or savasana, allows the body to absorb the practice. Always try to take a few breaths in stillness to let the breath practice be the focus to relax the mind.
If you’re short on time and want a quick and effective yoga flow to relieve your back pain, try this 4-minute flow below. You can do it in the morning before you start your day, or at night to unwind, stretch out your back, and relax.
Yoga is known to relieve many stresses in the body and mind. When practiced regularly, you can become more in tune with how the body responds to certain activity and move mindfully. It’s great for improved flexibility and range of motion, but also injury prevention. There are restorative yoga classes and workshops designed specifically for back pain. Check your local studios and instructors for a class near you!