When you are suffering from back pain, it's hard to think about anything else, including healthy eating and a balanced healthy diet.
I began doing basic yoga to relieve my back pain more than a decade ago and it worked! It helped with my back and many other aspects of my life, so I've been doing yoga ever since.
I’m not talking about a slight back ache.
I had several herniated disks with severe sciatica running down the back of my right leg.
The pain was so bad that I couldn’t wear shoes with closed heels, and I limped.
Physical therapy didn’t really offer much relief and I didn’t want to take cortisone injections.
I wanted to help my back heal naturally, so I turned to yoga and never looked back. I want everyone suffering with back pain to discover the same healing power of yoga that worked for me.
Caution: You should not perform these yoga exercises if you are experiencing severe or acute back pain. Please check with your doctor before beginning yoga or any exercise program, especially if your back pain is accompanied by other symptoms like numbness or pain and tingling or weakness in your legs.
Low back pain is a significant health problem in the U.S. Did you know that according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH):
- Seventy to 85 percent of all people have back pain at some time in their life.
- Back pain is the most frequent cause of activity limitation in people younger than 45 years old.
Doctors usually recommend a combination of pain medications and exercise to treat low back pain, but complete relief is often difficult to achieve.
More than one million Americans use yoga for back pain, a form of “mind-body” exercise, as treatment.
In an article published in the December 20, 2005 Annals of Internal Medicine researchers compared the effectiveness of yoga, traditional exercise (combining aerobic, strengthening, and stretching exercises), and a self-care plan for the treatment of chronic low back pain. Results showed that after 12 weeks, yoga was significantly more effective than traditional exercise or a self-care approach in improving back function.
“Yoga may be beneficial for back pain because it involves physical movement, but it may also exert benefits through its effects on mental focus,” they wrote.
Viniyoga Used in Back Pain Study
Patients in the study learned Viniyoga, a therapeutic style of yoga that is easy to learn and can be adapted for various body types and fitness levels.
“This study suggests that Viniyoga is a safe and effective treatment for chronic back pain and provides physicians with a rationale for recommending it (and possibly other therapeutically oriented styles of yoga as well) to their patients.”
There’s even a Viniyoga for back pain DVD. Gary Kraftsow, the renowned yoga therapist who designed the program used in this NIH Back Pain Study, has created the DVD Viniyoga Therapy for the Low Back, Sacrum & Hips with Gary Kraftsow. It provides a gentle regimen of stretching and strengthening exercises designed expressly for the low back, sacrum, and hips. I use it frequently to keep my low back in top form.
How a Good Yoga Teacher Can Help with Yoga for Back Pain
Once your doctor gives you the okay, find a good yoga teacher and tell her about your back pain and any other medical concerns. Find out if she is certified and what kind of yoga she teaches.
An experienced teacher with a background in Viniyoga, Iyengar, or Anusara yoga should have the training required to respond to your physical limitations creating gentle yoga for back pain exercises to safely stretch and strengthen your back.
Why Yoga Helps with Back Pain
One of the essential principles of back care is to create balance by developing strong yet flexible muscles, something yoga for back pain is designed to do. Most people, especially those of us living sedentary lives, have certain muscles in our bodies that tend to be tight and others that are weak, creating imbalances and pulling our spine and joints out of alignment. So, the focus will be to stretch and increase flexibility in some areas, while strengthening others.
For example, tight hamstring muscles (in the back of the thighs) and hip flexors (in the front of the thighs) can contribute to low-back pain so poses that stretch these muscles are important for overall back care.
How Yoga Helps with Back Pain
- Strengthens and stretches the back muscles
- Helps lengthen the spine and create more space for the discs between your vertebrae
- Improves posture leading to diminished pain
- Increases flexibility in your shoulders and hips, decreasing demands on your back
- Increases blood flow to muscles and joints, allowing nutrients to flow in, and toxins to flow out
- Increases blood to the spongy discs between the vertebrae and spinal muscles
- Improves body awareness, making you more conscious of movements that may contribute to back pain
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