So, is yoga good for back pain?
Studies show that Yoga is a safe and effective approach for alleviating back pain and improving physical functionality, although certain postures should be avoided depending on the type, cause and severity of back pain.
Yoga can also help prevent the onset of back pain and lower back pain by strengthening the back and core muscles. Be sure to seek medical advice before practicing yoga if you experience back pain.
Read on discover
- Common causes and types of back pain
- Is yoga good for back pain?
- 5 exercises to stretch and relax back muscles
- Is yoga good for lower back pain (LBP)?
- 5 yoga poses for LBP: benefits and precautions
- 3 yoga poses for core strength
Common types and causes of back pain
Vertebral disc protrusion
The outer layers of a vertebral disc bulge outwards and press against the spinal nerves, causing pain. Protrusions are more commonly caused by frontal compression of the discs while bending forward because the movement is not limited by any facet joints meaning greater pressure can be exerted.
Pressure on the discs causes their contents to be squeezed in the opposite direction, which is why protrusions and hernias are more likely to appear at the back of the spine.
The risk is greater if flexion (forward bending) and lateral inclination (side bending) occur simultaneously.
Spinal disc herniation (slipped disc)
When the contents of a vertebral disc nucleus leak out through a tear in its outer layers into the spinal canal. Slipped discs can be caused by lifting heavy objects while bending forward or by repeated actions such as leaning forward to tie shoes and slouching on the sofa.
When either a protrusion or a hernia causes the edge, or contents, of a vertebral disc to press against the central nerve of the spinal cord generating a radiating pain.
Lower back pain (lumbago)
Lower back pain (LBP), or lumbago, is a generic term to describe pain in the lumbar spine. It can be caused by muscular strains, protrusions, hernias, sciatica or wear and tear of the discs or facet joints. Other common causes of LBP include stress, prolonged muscular contraction, a sedentary lifestyle, and habitual bad posture.
Is yoga good for back pain?
Practicing a range of yoga poses stretches, strengthens and massages the back muscles, which helps to protect the spinal column from injury and to alleviate existing back pain. Core-strengthening postures such as plank and leg raises also help support the spine in movement by creating a girdle effect.Calming breathwork, relaxation and meditation can also be effective forms of pain management because they help to quieten the mind, reduce stress levels and release physical tension. In combination, these practices can reduce pain sensitivity.
Certain postures and practices should be avoided or practiced with care in the case of severe back pain, vertebral disc injuries, sciatica, or recent back surgery. Forward bending postures such as Ragdoll pose and Seated Forward Fold are not recommended and side bends such as Parsva Tadasana should be exercised with caution in these instances.
5 exercises to stretch and relax back muscles
Inspired by yoga poses, the following exercises help stretch and relax the iliopsoas and the quadratus lumborum (QL) muscles.
The iliopsoas muscle is the joining of the psoas major and the iliacus in the pelvis. As a paraspinal muscle, the psoas originates from the sides of the lumbar vertebrae and inserts into the femur with the iliacus, making it the strongest hip flexor.
Stretching the iliopsoas is necessary to prevent the shortening of the muscle; when the muscle is shortened, it tilts the pelvis backward, causing unnatural flexion of the lumbar spine and compression of the vertebral discs.
Though often referred to as a back muscle, the QL is the deepest abdominal muscle. It is situated near the lower back on both sides of the spine. Stretching this muscle helps to prevent rigidity, compression of the lumbar vertebral discs, and lumbago.
1 Standing half forward bend with chair (QL)
Stand with your hands on the back of a chair. Exhale and walk backward to extend the arms and lower the torso until it is parallel with the floor and the hips are directly over the heels. Keep the knees bent and the ears at arm height.
Take 3-5 deep breaths, relaxing the groin with each exhalation.
2 Crescent high lunge with chair (iliopsoas)
Sitting on a chair, move the right knee outwards as you turn the whole torso to the right and bring the left leg behind you. Centre the pelvis. The left leg can be extended or rest the knee on a block or the floor.
Inhale to extend the arms up and slightly behind your head, coming into a gentle back bend. Exhale to bring the arms behind the back interlocking the fingers and inhale to direct the breastbone forward.
Take 3-5 breaths in each position then change sides.
3 Half pigeon with chair (iliopsoas)
Place a cushion on a chair. With hands supported on the chair, bring ankle, outer side of the lower leg and knee onto the cushion. Inhale to lengthen the spine and gaze upwards, creating a gentle arch. Leave the hands on the back of the chair or on your waist.
Take 3-5 breaths before gently reversing the steps and changing sides.
4 Crescent low lunge + side bend (iliopsoas & QL)
From downward dog, bring the right foot in between the hands and rest the left knee on the mat or a folded blanket for comfort. Place the right hand on top of 1-2 blocks in line with the hips and the left hand on the waist. Inhale to lengthen the spine and lean back into a gentle arch. Inhale to lift the left arm and exhale to lean to the right side.
Take 3-5 breaths in each stage before changing sides.
5 Lying lateral stretch (QL)
Lie on your right side on the mat with the right arm in front of you at shoulder level and the head resting level on a yoga blanket. With the legs extended, slide the right leg slightly forward on the floor and the left leg backward, supporting it on top of a bolster where you reach comfortably. Bring the left arm overhead in line with the ear.
Take 3-5 deep breaths into to lower back area before changing sides.
Is yoga good for lower back pain?
The benefits of different asana “families” help to prevent and alleviate pain in the lumbar region known as lower back pain (LBP), or lumbago.
Backbends stretch the back and lengthen the spine to increase muscular elasticity and decrease discal compression. This helps relieve pain in the sacral and lumbar regions. People suffering from slipped discs may even benefit from gentle backbends such as Salabhasana.
Twisting poses tone the abdominal muscles through simultaneous contraction and stretching on opposite sides, which minimizes lumbago.
Try the following yoga poses and the suggested variations to find relief from back pain. Please read the precautionary notes before practicing.
5 Yoga poses to ease LBP
1 Vyaghrasana (Tiger Pose)
Starting on all fours, inhale to arch the back while lifting the right leg and bending the right knee, bringing the right foot and head towards each other. Hold the position for a few seconds. Exhale to bring the knee down and towards the chest as you round the spine and bring the nose towards the knee. Hold for a few seconds.
Repeat 5 times then change the leg.
- Loosens the back with alternating extension and flexion movements.
- Relaxes the sciatic nerve, relieving sciatica.
Precautions: in the case of neck injuries, refrain from lifting and lowering the head.
2 Bhujangasana (Cobra Pose) with bolster
Lie face down on a bolster, from the chest to the abdomen, and rest the forehead on a block. Place the palms under the shoulders, tucking in the elbows. Exhale to relax the back muscles. Inhale to lift the torso to a comfortable level, keeping the core engaged and the shoulders relaxed. Exhale to lower.
Repeat up to 5 times.
- Helps to alleviate backache and keeps the spine supple.
Avoid in the case of a spinal disc herniation.
3 Ardha Salabhasana (Half Cricket Pose)
Lie face down on a bolster, from the chest to the abdomen, with the forehead on a block and the palms down under the shoulders. Inhale and hold your breath while raising the right leg to a comfortable height. Exhale to lower the leg.
Lift each leg up to 5 times.
Start with both arms stretched out. Inhale to lift the right arm, head and left leg. Hold the breath and the position for a few seconds or exhale immediately to lower to the floor.
Repeat up to 5 times on each side.
- Both variations are gentler alternatives for beginners or people with weak and stiff backs.
- The movement helps to tone the back muscles and stimulate the nerves in the lower back.
4 Saral Dhanurasana (Easy Bow Pose) with bolster
Lie face down on a bolster, from the chest to the abdomen, with the hands beside the body and forehead resting on a block. Bend the knees, bringing the heels towards the buttocks. Extend each arm forward then rotate the shoulder outwards to grasp each ankle. Keep the thighs in contact with the bolster.
Inhale. Holding the breath, push the feet backward and lift the head and chest to a comfortable height. Breathe deeply in the pose and exhale to lower.
- Can ease back pain caused by a slipped disc
- Helps improve overall posture.
Do not practice if any discomfort is experienced.
5 Meru Wakrasana (easy spinal twist)
Sitting with the legs outstretched, turn the torso slightly to the right placing the right close to the base of the spine. Place the left hand close to the side of the right buttock. Place the left foot outside the right knee.
Inhale to lengthen the spine. Exhaling, turn the torso to the right, to look over the shoulder without straining.
- Stretches the spine and loosens vertebrae to alleviate backache, lumbago and mild forms of sciatica.
- Especially beneficial for beginners and weaker backs.
3 Yoga poses for core strength
Core strength is essential for the prevention of back pain because strong abdominal and paraspinal muscles provide us with structural support. This helps protect the vertebrae and vertebral discs.
1 Padotthanasana (Raised legs pose)
Lie on the mat with legs outstretched and palms down. Inhale to raise one leg to a comfortable height, keeping it as straight as possible. Hold the breath in this position for 3-5 seconds before exhaling to lower the leg.
Repeat 5-10 times then change legs.
If the back is weak, bend the base leg placing the foot flat on the mat.
2 Pada Sanchalasana (Cycling)
Lie on the mat with legs outstretched and palms face down. Bend the right knee and bring the thigh to the chest. Emulate a pedalling motion with the right leg: 10 times in a forward direction and 10 times backward.
Repeat with the left leg.
Avoid in the case of sciatica, protrusion or slipped disc.
Rest the knees on the mat or on top of a blanket with the hips low and the torso inclined upward.
Place your palms on a wall in front of you at shoulder height. Step the feet back, to a distance that allows you to extend the arms. Bend the elbows, keeping them close to the torso, until they align with the shoulders.
Hold each variation for 3-5 deep breaths.
Overview: Is Yoga good for back pain?
- A regular yoga practice incorporating breathwork and meditation aids pain management while increasing consciousness of the body and encouraging self-care.
- Yoga poses help to prevent and alleviate back pain and lower back pain by stretching and strengthening the back and abdominal muscles.
- While yoga can ease and help prevent back pain, on its own it is not a cure for back injuries and chronic pain. Anyone experiencing back pain should seek medical advice before practicing yoga.