Yoga for Back Pain

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Could This Age-Old Practice Bring Relief to Your Lower Back?

By Lisa Davis

When it comes to relieving lower back pain, many turn to yoga. In fact, the age-old practice’s effects on back pain are among the most studied of its health benefits.

Two recent studies showed yoga’s ability to ease back pain: one study in the Clinical Journal of Pain, which involved 967 patients and looked at yoga’s overall effects for chronic low back pain, and one in Musculoskeletal Care, which reviewed 17 studies involving 1,626 people with lower back pain, rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, kyphosis, or fibromyalgia. Both studies found that yoga is an acceptable and safe pain intervention that can be recommended as a therapy to patients with chronic low back pain.

Why is yoga so good for back ailments?

At the most basic level, yoga allows people to connect more deeply with their body and develop a sense of the underlying cause of what’s going wrong, said Dr. Loren Fishman, co-author of Yoga for Osteoporosis. Once you quiet down enough to sense whatever it is that you’re doing wrong, be it bad biomechanics, poor lifestyle habits, chronic stress, or whatever, you can undo those habits, and things tend to clear up.

Over time, yoga can also increase strength and flexibility, effectively counteracting the tightness and weak muscles that cause many types of back pain.

Back pain and other musculoskeletal conditions often result from unconscious habits, Fishman said. We may sit in a chair at work every day that makes us slump. Or we may be carrying things with bad biomechanics, which is often the cause of musculoskeletal difficulties and even herniated discs. So, once you learn to undo those and unwind the soft tissues, you can see great results.

Consult your doctor before beginning a yoga practice for back pain. If you’re given the green light, you can search for a certified yoga instructor or school on the Yoga Alliance website. When choosing an instructor, consider these factors:

  • Certification: Be sure your instructor has completed a course of study at an accredited yoga center or institution.
  • Training: Training as a yoga teacher takes time and effort. Find out how and where the teacher was trained. Ask about the schools or program completed and primary teachers.
  • Specialties: If you have particular needs or a specific health condition, you want a teacher who knows how to work with them. Specialized instruction can include prenatal yoga, seniors or children’s yoga, or yoga for persons with disabilities.
  • Practice: A committed teacher practices regularly, if not daily.
  • Continuing study: It’s important that teachers deepen their knowledge with training, workshops, and classes.

You may also want to check out the Melt Method, which uses props such as a soft roller (similar to the foam rollers you see at the gym, only not as hard) and rubber balls to relieve tension, like giving yourself a massage. The goal is to stimulate nerve endings and softly manipulate tissues with light pressure.

We’d Love to Hear from You: Do you have a favorite yoga school or teacher you’d like to tell others about? Is there a certain yoga move that you do that helps to relieve your back pain? Share your yoga tips with our community.

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