Can yoga help to relieve my lower back pain?
As physiotherapists we are often asked if yoga will help with lower back pain. While the answer is not exactly black-and-white, a recent study helps to support our typical advice of “YES!”, yoga can certainly help relieve lower back pain. Yoga has been around almost 4000 years and has many forms. Classes generally taught in the US and Canada consist of a combination of physical exercises, breathing exercises, and meditation. However, the two core yoga exercises or poses you will be performing to help with your back pain are stretching and those that strengthen, or improve stability in your core muscles. Here we’ll cover the basics of both.
In the study mentioned above they found that a stretching class was just as effective as yoga for back pain relief. And if you were to attend a physiotherapy session with one of our physiotherapists you will likely be doing stretches. Stretching can help reduce the overall stress your lower back endures. It can help to realign your hips, pelvis, and back so your body can maintain correct postures. But while stretching is generally good, the irony is that certain types of stretching can actually worsen some back problems. A yoga practice with too much emphasis on aggressive forward bending can be risky, particularly if the person has tight hamstrings and a flattened curve in the lower back. A well-constructed yoga routine, however, can be an ideal way to learn to stretch without creating or exacerbating back pain. It’s also a great way to practice good alignment and movement patterns which help protect the back from injury. One stretch we often use is the “reclining big toe” pose, or Supta Padangusthasana. See picture. This is a generally safe stretch for most back pain patients to perform.
When someone mentions their “core muscles” they are NOT just talking about their abdominals. If you merely strengthen your abdominals then you risk creating a muscle imbalance over time and could make your situation worse. You should not forget that your back and oblique muscles are also a part of your core muscle group. In yoga they emphasize the use of your core muscles when holding a pose. If you have ever done a plank, or know what it is, then you should know that holding a pose such as a plank can really stress your abdominals and other core muscles. Your core muscles work as a brace to stabilize your lower back, which is why holding these poses work so well in strengthening your body in the way it will be used. While sit-ups and crunches work great at improving abdominal strength, they either: a) may not be good for someone with lower back pain, or b) they are not as functional for stability as you typically only perform this motion when getting up from a laying down position. Plank picture
So prior to beginning a yoga class or trying yoga at home you first need to understand your condition and know what to avoid. And while overall yoga is safe (here comes the disclaimer), if you do have any medical condition we recommend you consult with your physician or physiotherapist before starting any yoga program.