Before You Use Yoga To Help With Back Pain [3 Steps]
I’m constantly researching and learning more and more about different yoga modalities and this month my eyes have turned towards the world of “Yoga Therapy”.
Yoga can help with many things. Be it heartbreak, depression, plantar fasciitis, flexibility or even strength - yoga has been known to help with all of these vastly different issues.
But to say, “Yoga helps with back pain” is kinda like saying, “Sleeping helps with back pain.” If you have poor sleeping habits - then you may be going about it all wrong.
Please understand the article you’re reading IS NOT to encourage you to toward or away from yoga with regards to back pain.
However, my aim is to provide you with some basic information through the KINDS of back pain and WHICH POSTURES may help you.
This post is also assuming you’re accustomed to doing yoga and have a basic understand of the postures that follow.
Book Tip: “Yoga for Back Pain” by Dr. Loren Fishman & Carol Ardman. This book is an invaluable resource for anyone wishing to expand their knowledge.
See a Doctor and Get a Diagnosis
Step one is to see a doc' to get an exact idea of what's going on...
As we’ll soon explore there are many different types of back pain. What’s even more damaging is that you could have a COMPLEX issue - meaning you may have 2 or even 3 different specific issues causing your pain.
If this is the case then using yoga to treat your pain could be quite tricky.
Let’s assume you have a plastic bucket filled with boiling hot water… The bucket is melting from the hot water & there’s also a hole in the bucket.
Which do you worry about or fix first?
The fact the bucket is melting, or burn your hands and try to patch the hole?
If you have a complex issue then it may be best to seek out the help from someone other than just a yoga therapist.
Understand the KIND of Back Pain You Have
Step two is to understand what type of pain you're experiencing...
AFTER you’ve got a diagnosis and your doctor has cleared you to tread lightly into the world of yoga, then you should be okay to proceed.
Let’s look at a few forms of back pain:
***Please Note*** Much of what follows is summarized from Dr. Loren Fishman's book, "Yoga For Backpain"
This is mostly strains, sprains and spasms. Your posture can have a lot to do with this. If you sit at a desk all day without much movement then you’re probably a prime candidate for this type of pain.
Stress and emotions can also play a role here. Do you hold a ton of tension in your shoulders when you’re stressed? Any number of mental issues could have an adverse effect on you physical body.
Pinched Nerves and/or Herniated Discs
Herniated discs can cause any number of neurological issues. What’s even more frustrating is that our nervous system likes to play tricks on us.
There may be an issue near one of your vertebrae, but you actually feel pain on the outside of your calf muscle… You may also experience numbness, tingling, weakness, burning or even sharp lightning bolts of pain.
Neurological issues are indeed difficult to understand. This is why getting a diagnosis is so important.
Be it osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis this area of pain deals with the joints. There’s plenty of information out there on this form of back pain. WebMD sums it up quite well.
Yoga Postures for Specific Types of Back Pain
Step three is about finding the right postures for your type of back pain.
At this point you've been cleared by a doctor to tread lightly into the world of yoga, and you’ve noted the type of pain you might be experiencing.
Let’s look at couple of postures that might be beneficial for you.
Yoga for Musculoskeletal Pain
Legs Up The Wall Pose (viparita karani)
Also known as “inverted lake” pose, this posture helps to stretch your hamstrings. Furthermore this gentle inversion helps to produce a calming effect on the body.
Now you might be saying,
“Wait a second! My back hurts! How’s this gonna help me?”
Remember the “stress and emotions” part of the Musculoskeletal Pain portion? It’s always a good idea to slow down, take a few deep breaths and bring ourselves into a more relaxed state.
Taking a moment to calm our minds, and calm our bodies may allow the tension we’re experiencing to subside.
Stretching our hamstrings is also good for allowing things to relax. Remember, everything is connected and by starting with a major muscle group CLOSE TO our backs, we set the tone for allowing muscles in our back to relax as well.
Seated Forward Bend (paschimottanasana)
Also known as “seated forward fold” this is classic yoga pose helps to with our lumbar flexibility. Naturally you’ll feel this in your glutes and hamstrings as well.
Yoga For Disc Issues and Pinched Nerves
Cobra Pose (Bhujangasana)
This posture will, “pull disc material away from the nerve rootlets by stretching the front of the neck, chest, and abdomen.”
You may also find it beneficial to modify into sphinx pose… It’ll be much easier to focus on creating length in your spine rather than having to worry about supporting your body weight with your arms.
Triangle Pose (Trikonasana)
This is a good posture to help relieve sciatica-causing pressure on spinal nerves. However, please take things slow. In our rush to relieve pain we often rush into the full expression of these postures.
It may be a good idea to come into a shallow Warrior II stance - then straighten that front knee - and just hold. That’s right… keep your arms extended and just hold. Once you’ve held here for a few breaths THEN begin slowly tilting down.
Yoga for Arthritis
Down Dog & Up Dog
I’ve included these two postures together to make a point. If you’re not careful, Upward Facing Dog can be a very intense back bend and might not be the best pose for your lower back. If you have serious rotator cuff issues then Downward Facing Dog might not be a good idea either.
Our bodies are a complex system and just because Upward Facing Dog helps to stretch the front of the hip joint (which is beneficial for arthritis in your hips) if you are having issues elsewhere then you might want to skip this posture.
Conversely, Down Dog will increase your upper back, shoulder and neck mobility - but unless you’ve been taught HOW to down dog properly - you might be collapsing into your shoulder joints too much.
Wide Legged Forward Fold (Prasarita Padottanasana)
Also known as standing separate leg stretch, this posture is beneficial for your lower spine, sacroiliac, and hip joints.
If bending all the way down is not an option for you then please make use of a prop. Sometimes a block or a chair can do wonders for our yoga practice.
Keep in mind the above is a VERY brief overview of a few types of back pain along with a posture or two that may help. This material is not meant to diagnose, but more as a warning.
Make sure you have seen a doctor. Next, make sure you can find a yoga therapist with enough knowledge to know which postures ARE and ARE NOT safe for your body.
The postures above MAY be some common ones you encounter along the way.
Thank you for reading!