So your back hurts. Maybe you can’t even remember the last time it didn’t hurt. You’re popping Ibuprofen like they’re Skittles, and you’re wondering if you might get a little relief from yoga. Is it safe to practice yoga when your back hurts this much?
Well, maybe. The answer depends on a lot of factors, like the source of back pain, the yoga positions you try, and whether you’re taking any other steps to try to resolve the pain.
What causes back pain?
The short answer to this question is that something’s out of place. When the segments of your spine shift out of normal position, nerves get pinched, discs pop out of place, vertebrae start grinding against each other. Therefore, the muscles surrounding the spine do everything they can to offer better support, meaning they get tight and knotted. The result? Pain.
Can yoga help back pain?
I am absolutely a fan of yoga. However, because pain represents a deeper problem, yoga alone is not going to be a true solution. The structural issue needs to be addressed. Yes, your muscles are tight, and yoga will probably help loosen them up. You may feel somewhat better. But the tight muscles are not the source of the problem. They are a side effect. Ultimately, the deeper problem is that your vertebrae aren’t aligned. And if they stay misaligned, your muscles will seize up again and your pain will persist.
Now, assuming you are going to see an experienced Gonstead chiropractor and fix the problem of back pain, then yes: yoga can help release the surrounding muscles and alleviate some of the symptomatic pain.
“I’ve tried yoga and I think it makes my back worse.”
It is definitely possible for yoga to cause back pain or exacerbate back pain. Some poses are more problematic than others. However, any pose can be harmful if not done properly, or if your body’s not in the right place for it.
So to make sure yoga doesn’t leave you lying on the floor in a bad way, here are a few rules for every pose:
- If it hurts, stop doing it.
- Make sure you are doing each pose 100% correctly. Having a qualified instructor is crucial until you master the proper alignment for each pose. If you’re looking for a good yoga instructor in the Durham area, visit our friends at Arrichion Hot Yoga. Their highly trained, attentive instructors will have your back. If you’re looking for an instructor elsewhere, be sure to check their credentials, and tell them about any pain you are experiencing in advance. If they tell you to “take it easy and you’ll be fine,” find another studio.
- If you’re practicing without an instructor, take photos or video of yourself practicing different poses. Then you can check to make sure they line up with professional recommendations for each pose. If they don’t, find a good tutor.
Start by holding each pose for only a few seconds. As you progress in the session, the poses can be held longer as your joints and muscles loosen.
- Move into and out of every pose sloooowly. Be attentive to discomfort and don’t push it.
- Don’t lock your joints, which puts disengages the muscles and puts pressure on the joints.
- Do not twist or shift around in the middle of a pose. If you feel unstable, you need to move out of the pose as gently and steadily as possible.
Yoga Poses That Are Good for Your Back
Be gentle to yourself if you are experiencing back pain. You won’t get better by ignoring the pain. Here are a few poses that will help ease the tension without demanding too much.
A good trunk twist can help you relieve tightness in the lower back. First, lie on your back with arms stretched out to either side like a T. Then stretch your feet away from you, as if someone is tugging on them. Take a moment to relax every muscle. Next, raise your left knee to a 90-degree angle while keeping your right leg straight on the ground. Tighten your core to support the lumbar as you lower your left knee to the right, across the right leg. When you reach a light stretch, hold it there. Now exhale slowly and relax deeper into the pose. Slowly return the left knee to an upright 90-degree angle, then lower it to the floor. Repeat with the right leg.
Cat and Cow
Cat and cow is a gentle sequence for stretching the back and engaging the core. Start on your hands and knees, flat back, square hips. Take a moment to relax. Make sure you are keeping your core stable to avoid twisting during the sequence. Then arch your back so that your stomach drops toward the floor and lift your head gently upward. Now slowly round your back toward the ceiling as you lower your head. Alternate between these poses, keeping your pace and breath steady and slow.
Try upward facing dog as a less aggressive alternative to down dog, especially if the latter causes pain. Lie on your stomach with your palms on the floor next to your rib cage. Then, spread your fingers to distribute your weight and take the pressure of your wrists. Next, push down through your fingers and raise your chest off the floor. Focus on your arm and back muscles. Don’t over-arch your neck. Finally, ease back down to the floor.
No child was ever as relaxed as you will be in child’s pose. Kneel so that you are sitting on your heels, thighs forming two parallel lines. Now bow forward so that your forehead touches the floor in front of your knees, or a block or rolled towel if your head won’t reach the floor. You can try stretching your arms forward over your hea. If this hurts your shoulders, let your arms lie limp behind you, hands near feet. Engage your core to return to an upright position without straining your back.
Yoga Poses To Avoid If Your Back Hurts
It goes without saying that more advanced poses should be avoided if your back isn’t at its best. But these middle-of-the-road poses should also be set aside for the time being.
For your neck’s sake, stay away from shoulder stands. The pose puts a enormous amount of pressure on your spine, neck, and shoulders.
If you have poor balance, avoid the lunge twist, as an unsteady twisting motion can severely injure the lower back. Work on balance through regular lunges and warrior poses first, keeping your knee over your heel and your hips square.
The wheel is not for yogis with compromised backs. Hold off until you know what the problem is. Chiropractic adjustments can get you back on track, but not if you overdo it before you’re ready.
Use Caution With These Poses When You Have Back Pain
Some poses can give you relief if done right. When you attempt the below, good form is imperative.
Above all, if you have lower back pain, it’s important to do downward dog correctly (or take a break from it till you get your spine issues fixed). If the spine is not stable during downward dog, hip and lower back pain are practically guaranteed. A herniated disc is even possible. Spine stability in this pose means the spinal column is neutral – not arched, not rounded. Straight. Don’t shrug your shoulders, and keep your head and neck neutral.
In a basic forward bend, the temptation is to touch the floor at all costs, but a round back is a back at risk. Starting in mountain pose, keep your back straight as you hinge forward, and keep your pelvis level with the floor.
Triangle pose can feel amazing… if it’s really a triangle. If you look like the letter C or a squirrel trying to hide a nut in its own tail, you’re going to hurt yourself. To achieve the correct geometry, first get your front foot facing forward, parallel with the long edges of the mat. Your back foot should be perpendicular to the front foot, and in a straight line heel-to-arch. Hips, pelvis, and core should be parallel to the ground. Your neck should be in a straight line with your spinal column and needs to be steady.
Another position that’s easy to overdo is camel pose. Make sure your shoulders and neck are gently stretched before moving into the pose, and don’t let your neck collapse as you tilt backwards.
Boat pose and seated forward fold can both be tough on your lower back. Only practice the former if you have the core strength to stabilize your back, hips perfectly square. Either can be done if you don’t round your back to achieve the stretch.
For Your Best Yoga Practice, First Fix the Structural Issue With Chiropractic Care
Remember the old motto on cereal boxes and TV ads? Such-and-such Cereal: Part of this complete nutritious breakfast! (Fine print: IF you also eat eggs and vegetables and fruit and…)
Well, yoga really can be part of your complete healthcare plan… IF you also get a modest amount of exercises, eat well, and see a good Gonstead chiropractor to resolve the alignment issues that are most likely causing your back pain in the first place.
Above all, a Gonstead chiropractor will help you identify the source of your pain. Additionally, he or she can recommend stretches and yoga positions that will help ease the tension, bring relief, and help you heal the right way. So if you want to kick pain for good and get back to living the life you want, do yoga the right way and visit the right chiropractor.
Find the Problem. Fix the Pain.
PLANKS. Planks engage the abdominal muscles and back muscles, stabilizing the spinal column and mimicking proper lumbar alignment. To do them right and protect your back: Start on your forearms to avoid shoulder strain. Keep your abs tight the entire time. Do not let your back sag. Square your hips with the floor. Have someone take a picture or set up a timed photo/video so you can check whether your back is straight. This is a better way to confirm your posture than using a mirror, because the mirror requires you to twist your neck in the middle of the pose.
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