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Yoga for Back Pain

By Peter Hutch

Lower back pain injuries are associated with lifting, twisting, bending, reaching, pulling and pushing actions. In order to help prevent back pain injuries, people should:

  • m_yoga_2Engage in exercises that don't jolt or strain the back
  • maintain correct posture
  • lift objects properly

Low back pain injuries create tug-of-wars with opposing and attachments of bone, ligament, tendon, and muscle.

Lower back pain relief can be achieved in a variety of ways, but firstly it is important to get an accurate diagnosis for your particular ailment, so that lower back pain relief can be correctly administered. Eighty percent of the adult population suffers from lower back pain at some point in their lives, so, whether it's you or somebody you care for, it is useful to have some relief techniques at hand for treating it.

If you suffer from chronic back pain you should check with your doctor before starting any exercise program. Specifically tell your doctor you plan to practice yoga for your back pain so he can tell you about any movements you need to avoid and any safety modifications you may need to make.

The basic strength of yoga lies in its stretching of muscles and joints and then holding it in position combined with scientific breathing technique. This, coupled with the relaxing breathing techniques reduces strain on muscles and joints, occasionally helping repositioning of tendons and muscle fibbers. Get moving, remember that if you have to stand or sit in one position for a long time, then try to change the position at least every 15-20 minutes.

Doing yoga cultivates a balance between the flexibility and strength of the muscles of the body, often the real culprit in back pain. People with back pain have to be extra careful when trying out exercise. While yoga can confer many benefits on the back or neck pain sufferers, it can have its pitfalls. Establish a yoga practice that takes into consideration why you have back pain, and how much of it there is. This means understanding your condition, being willing to modify yoga instruction so that you do not have pain while you work, and knowing which poses to skip, to avoid making your symptoms worse.

Many physical therapists, such as me, practice yoga and are now incorporating it into their treatment plans for back care. See your health care provider for a diagnosis and treatment of any medical concerns you may have, and before implementing any diet, supplement, exercise or other lifestyle changes. Extended Child's pose is my safest place to go when I'm feeling back pain, Scared Cat moving into arched back brings relief as does working with blocks and bolsters.

The vast majority of basic yoga exercises actually help to strengthen both the back and the abdominal muscles, as a result of which these will assist in reducing the occurrence of back pain. However, if you are already suffering from back pain it is advisable to take care and only do exercises you are able to complete comfortably, limiting the range of movement until you can release some of the tension and stiffness without causing any further inflammation.


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Yoga won't cure all back pains. It may make some patients worse. Being flexible may not be the goal if a patient's back is unstable.
Doing specific back exercises is championed by any number of back gurus. However, most people do not need to...

Yoga won't cure all back pains. It may make some patients worse. Being flexible may not be the goal if a patient's back is unstable.
Doing specific back exercises is championed by any number of back gurus. However, most people do not need to strengthen their backs. They need to become active. Aerobic activity by itself can decrease back problems. As an Atlanta neurosurgeon says, “Motion is the lotion.” Immobility leads to increased pain.
In his research, as reported in his book Low Back Disorders, exercise physiologist Stuart McGill makes a good case for not doing a number of exercises. These are frequently the same exercises doctors tell their patients with low back pain to do. Don’t do them!! They are listed below. He also shows why certain exercises are better at rehabilitating an injured back than others. He compares the back to a tall tower with supporting guy wires. The tower supports itself against gravity by the way it is constructed, i.e., it isn’t easily compressed. The guy wires keep the tower from buckling or falling over. The tower is your vertebral column. The guy wires are your back and abdominal muscles.
If you think you need specific exercises or think they may help your back, take the following advice from McGill into account: there are some specific exercises to avoid. Any exercise that increases intra-abdominal pressure increases compression of the discs and the facet joints, increasing the likelihood of injury or irritation of these structures. Even though strong abdominal muscles contribute to back stability, true sit-ups and bent leg sit-ups can be injurious. They increase the compressive force between vertebrae to unacceptable limits. Unless you are an athlete bent on competition and willing to take that risk in order to improve your performance, avoid doing them. For the rest of us, endurance in those muscles is more important than strength. Pull-ups, believe it or not, also compress your discs. Most extension exercises are a bad choice.
All exercises should be done with the back in a neutral position, including any stretching such as hamstring, quadriceps, and psoas stretches. McGill also goes over nerve flossing (a way of decreasing the compression on segmental nerves), but it has the potential to worsen pain. It is best to receive specific instructions from a physical therapist who has a lot of experience with the technique.
Back exercises that are acceptable include the cat-camel, partial squats, curl-ups, side bridge, plank, push-up, and bird dog. These increase core strength and back stability by strengthening the rectus abdominis, obliquus externus abdominis, and obliquus internus abdominis muscles (the guy wires to your towering vertebral column). Aerobic exercises, like brisk walking, jogging, swimming, and – depending upon your posture – riding a bike are also good for your lower back. They increase your overall stamina and the stamina and strength of the muscles in your back.
Bill Yancey, MD

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Comment was last edited about 5 years ago by Big Boss Bill Yancey
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