There are many ways yoga can enhance people’s overall health. Yoga is often sought out in instances where noninvasive forms of pain management and healing are required. If you suffer from acute or even chronic back pain, you might be wondering if yoga is one such pain management solution for you.
While more studies still need to be conducted on the noninvasive therapeutic potential yoga has for healing lower back pain, the research is encouraging! In this article, you’ll learn the different ways to prevent injury when performing yoga, as well as the specific yoga poses that best help aid the lower back.
The 8 Best Ways Yoga Helps with Lower Back Pain
How can yoga help with lower back pain? To alleviate your lower back pain, you must develop healthy postural habits and learn to move your body in deliberate ways. Part of this includes strengthening the body, elongating the muscles, and increasing flexibility. Yoga is capable of all these things, so it can be so beneficial in aiding lower back problems.
Promotes Proper Body Alignment
Much of yoga requires assessing your body’s current alignment and learning how to realign your body properly. Many yoga poses encourage lumbar engagement, which is wonderful because so often people slump or round their spines due to spending eight hours a day in an office chair at a computer. Poor posture takes a toll on the body, and yoga helps to correct this.
The goal in all your yoga poses is to allow your body to return to its most natural state. You may have forgotten this, but the natural curve of a spine is a slight inward curve at the lower back (the lumbar spine), a slight outward curve toward the upper/middle back (thoracic spine), and a slight inward curve at the neck (cervical spine.)
The yoga practice seeks to honor these natural curves by utilizing the core, keeping the head from drooping, and the pelvis from swiveling the wrong way. When your spine is in perfect alignment, you can begin re-training your body to its natural posture, which can significantly ease lower back (lumbar) pain.
After your yoga class, it is wise to try sitting and standing straighter, recalling how your body felt in your poses, to try to engage this muscle memory not just in class but in every moment of your life.
To heal one part of the body, you must strengthen all the body. When there is a pain in your right glute, for example, one must look at how the entire right side of the body is aligned and functioning.
Often, a weak ankle can cause pain and inflammation in another part of the body because your knees or glutes are overcompensating to avoid putting pressure on an ankle that doesn’t work 100% properly.
When people think of yoga, they often imagine bending gymnasts able to backbend while balancing on their heads. While some yogis are certainly capable of such feats, the key here is that yoga increases flexibility, which allows people to eventually balance on their heads in a backbend.
Improving flexibility can help ease lower back pain by preventing the body from overcompensating and utilizing your injured lumbar muscles. Not only that, but the sensation of stretching and lengthening the muscles provides sweet relief to aching lower back muscles.
Improves Upon your Core
Yoga seeks to strengthen every muscle in the body, thereby helping to build overall strength and lower back strength. One of the key areas yoga seeks to strengthen is the core (your abdominal muscles).
A strong, actively engaged core is key to preventing lower back pain and injury. When the core is weak, the body will overcompensate by engaging the back muscles, which can only bear a load before giving in.
Aromatherapy Pain Relief
One of the more unsung benefits of yoga is also the aromatherapy benefits. Most classes have a pleasant scent about them as you enter the room. These are typically essential oils that are sprinkled around the room or diffused in an oil diffuser. You can create a beautiful smelling ambiance in your own home by sprinkling essential oils, like lavender, on your mat.
Lavender is proven to help relieve stress as well as ease pain. In Kaiser Permanente’s Headaches 101 Pain Management class, they teach that inhaling lavender while taking deep, slow breathes for 15 minutes has shown to relieve pain as effectively as store-bought pain killers like Tylenol or Ibuprofen.
If you are serious about using yoga as a form of pain relief for lower back pain, be sure to include lavender essential oil aromatherapy alongside it to receive the most amount of pain relief possible!
Increases Level of Mobility
Once strength is built and flexibility improved, you will find that some activities that seemed impossible before are now performed with ease. Simple things like lifting your child or grandchild might have once proved difficult, strenuous, or painful, but now feel easy and effortless.
Yoga improves your overall level of mobility. Maybe you used to play basketball and could dart left and right easily. However, twenty years later, your joints are stiffer, your flexibility is limited, and the pain in your back keeps you from even considering hitting the court.
However, after six months of yoga, you would be surprised to find that spring in your step you had in your twenties is not so far out of reach (pun most certainly intended.)
The deep stretches performed in yoga help to wring out all the toxins built up in your lymphatic system. This is important for easing pain because lactic acids and other such compounds often cause inflammation in the body. Inflammation is the body’s way of dealing with pain or imbalance by sending heat and blood to the area to provide it with special attention.
However, this inflamed area will feel achy or even painful. Often lower back pain is caused by varying degrees of inflammation. Fortunately, yoga helps reduce inflammation in the body by purging the body of toxins.
Encourages Intentional Breathing
Many times, chronic pain can very literally steal one’s breathe away. You might not be aware of just how much lower back pain changes every aspect of the body.
In fact, the amygdala in the brain is a pain receptor that can translate an ache, like a sprained ankle, into an alarm bell in the body, which triggers the body’s pain response and often incites things like headaches as a way to alert the body that pain management is needed.
When you begin to understand just how interconnected the mind and body are, it begins to make sense why simple actions, like focusing on one’s breathing, because critical in the advent of pain management.
Taking control of your breathing helps to take the reins back on your stress. Get control of how you manage your pain. Yes, chronic pain is debilitating, but you must focus on providing relief to the rest of your body if you can ever hope to improve an acute part of the body.
Breathing is one of the few critical mechanisms we must do to survive. Quick, shallow breaths resemble the breathes one takes after they’ve been chased by a lion. This kicks cortisol into gear and sends stress chemicals throughout the body.
These chemicals can lead to further issues like inflammation and weight gain, which only help to exasperate back pain, as opposed to alleviate it.
Yoga is a precise practice that relies heavily on intentional breathing cycles in which you must take deep, slow inhale in, and deep slow exhales out. Not only does this help do the practice of yoga safer and more focused on precision, but this style of breathing naturally induces a sort of mental calm and clarity.
Increases Mental Focus & Relaxation
One of the benefits of doing therapeutic yoga practices is that the exercise itself requires complete, uninhibited focus. This kind of focus makes individuals dip into a sort of meditative state, where they are no longer focusing on to-do lists or the past or future. Practitioners are in the moment and focused on the body and breathe.
This type of meditative state is an excellent practice for individuals suffering with lower back pain because it also encourages people to focus on the whole body as a way of healing and focuses away from the pain and places the focus back on breathing.
This doesn’t mean your pain will magically go away because you are focused on something else. Your pain will still exist and be present. However, the intentional choice of focusing on your breathe and the precise movements of the body does require your brain to pull at least some of your focus on your pain to something else that requires your attention.
Should I Do Yoga with Lower Back Pain?
Depending on the type of lower back pain, you are experiencing will determine whether yoga is right for you. Any kind of exercise may exacerbate some lower back conditions or ailments. For this reason, you should always concert your doctor before attempting a new activity.
Dr. Elson of Harvard Health recommends refraining from yoga if you have any of the following back problems: spinal fracture, herniated disc, or muscle tearing.
Many studies have suggested that performing therapeutic and restorative yoga practices has improved some people’s lower back pain. For example, this 2017 study about yoga for chronic lower back found that after one year of practicing yoga, participants had found their lower back pain had eased and improved, to the point of ceasing pain medications after just three months of incorporating yoga.
Likewise, the American College of Physicians found that yoga was a viable treatment option for acute, subacute, and chronic low back pain. In their 2017 study, they discovered people who practiced yoga had anywhere from small to moderate improvement in the amount of pain previously experienced due to lower back pain and that they also had improved mobility.
How to Prevent Further Injury to Lower Back While Doing Yoga
If you have been given explicit permission by your doctors to practice yoga, then it is paramount you practice yoga correctly to prevent any further injury. Many people can injure their backs performing yoga when they do not follow proper instruction, go too fast, or push themselves too far.
Be Intentional & Mindful
Yoga is meant to be practiced gently and intentionally. The poses can be quite challenging and strenuous, but the approach is meant to be tackled with intentional, deep breathing and by slowly, languidly entering poses and gently increasing the stretch. Some yoga practitioners are eager to feel the deeper stretch go too far, too quickly and end up with a back injury.
You must always focus on maintaining a solid foundation in each posture, and then when transitioning from pose to pose, doing so slowly. This may seem like it won’t be physically demanding, but it is quite challenging to slowly move your body with intention. So, you will get a nice workout while also preventing unnecessary injury.
If you weren’t an experienced triathlete, you wouldn’t just wake up one day and run, bike and swim, in a triathlon, right? So, don’t go to your first ever yoga class and see if you can do a full split.
Remember Your Core
There are very few yoga poses that do not fully activate the core. For this reason, you must always be cognoscente of engaging your abdominals. Your core is your center of strength and balance. If you cheat out of poses by disengaging your core, you increase your risk of injury to your lower back significantly.
You will notice when you focus on sucking in your belly button that the tension in your spine melts away. That is because your abdominal muscles are meant to bear more load than your back muscles and spine.
Inform your Yoga Instructor of your Limitations
Never push yourself beyond your physical ability, most especially with any injury or chronic ailments. Before every yoga class, always inform your instructor that you are experiencing lower back pain and would value any specific modifications she/he can provide during the class.
Honor where your body is at, never exceed your own limitations, especially when attempting to ease pain and promote self-healing.
Look for Restorative & Therapeutic Yoga
The type of yoga class you take is just as important as your individual approach to the practice. Find a studio or private instructor that is specializing in restorative or therapeutic yoga practices, which take into account healing and injuries.
There are many classes available that target pain relief and improved mobility. These types of classes will benefit you far more than a standard yoga class.
Avoid Extremely Hot Yoga & Exercise Classes
Not all types of yoga are suitable for lower back pain. While hot yoga may help to purge the lymphatic system of toxins by making you flex and sweat, it can increase pain by causing inflammation due to the excessive amount of heat.
Likewise, classes that are meant for exercises, like yoga sculpting or yoga ballet bar, maybe too high intensity for someone with lower back pain. These classes may be a viable option after some more restorative classes have been taken and pain has lessened.
Let Your Body Recover
It is normal to feel sore after doing yoga, as it fully engages your muscles in a way other exercises might not. This is not a bad thing, but it is wise to give yourself time to recover in between each yoga session.
Start off by doing one-two classes a week and see how your body does. Then increase your frequency to 3-4 times a week. When you try new poses and wake up the next day sore, enjoy the rewards of your growth, but reward yourself by resting and recovering before jumping back into another class the very next day.
The Best Poses for Lower Back Pain Relief
While the general practice of yoga is beneficial, there are certain poses that provide a more direct stretch for your lower back. These poses can help you to maintain a healthy spine, but you should also discuss these poses with your doctor before incorporating them into your healing routine.
- Child’s Pose
- Double Knee Spinal Twist
- Cat-Cow Pose
- Bridge Pose
- Cobra Pose
- Half Lord of the Fishes Pose
- Extended Triangle
- Downward Facing Dog Pose
- Sphinx Pose
- Locust Pose
- Standing Forward Bend
The Key Take Away
When practiced with deliberate preciseness, yoga has the potential to help individuals ease or reduce their lower back pain. However, you must always consult your physician about integrating exercise into your routine if you do suffer chronic lower back pain or have suffered some more acute injury that requires rest and additional healing.
If your physician does approve, yoga can certainly help realign your body posture, which helps take the pressure off the spine. Yoga can help cleanse the lymphatic system, helping to flush any bacteria or toxins in our body, as well as lactic acids that cause pain and inflammation.
The key to practicing yoga with hopes of easing your lower back pain is by going slowly at your own pace, informing your instructor at the beginning of class, and focusing not on straining your muscles but very slowly easing into postures so that you can gradually move deeper into the pose. If you move too fast and do the poses incorrectly, it can potentially cause further injury.