There are many many causes and treatments for back pain, depending on the cause. This article will outline general back health exercises that are not specific to any one diagnosis or cause of low back pain. Read on for yoga stretches and strengthening postures that can aid in relieving low back pain.
There are many many causes and treatments for back pain, depending on the cause. This article will outline general back health exercises that are not specific to any one diagnosis or cause of low back pain. Read on for yoga stretches (more: yoga stretches for runners or for neck pain) and strengthening postures that can aid in relieving low back pain.
As always, if you have pain, or pain worsens, during a motion or activity, stop and consult your physician.
Disclaimer: Although I am a physical therapist and certified yoga teacher by profession, I am not YOUR physical therapist or yoga teacher. This article is for informational and educational purposes only, does not constitute medical advice and does not establish any kind of therapist-patient or student-teacher relationship with me. I am not liable or responsible for any damages resulting from or related to your use of this information.
One of the first things I typically educate people on is posture. A lot of times, simply adjusting your posture can make a world of difference in how your joints, and in this case, your spine or back feels.
Yoga stretches can help improve posture by counteracting the habitual patterns we typically get into. Think: slouched position, rounding in the spine and forward head and shoulders. Sound familiar? Driving, typing, watching TV, using a handheld device, eating dinner. These are all examples of times most people assume a forward flexed posture.
Yoga can help improve your posture through both strength and flexibility postures. Additionally, you should pay attention to your posture throughout the day and make readjustments into better alignment frequently. Practicing good posture regularly is the only way to make it better.
So if you want to improve your back pain, do the following yoga exercises and for goodness sakes, sit up straight!!
There are four poses highlighted here for flexibility and another four for strength. These poses are by no means exhaustive of postures/stretches that can help with back pain, but these will target the six main movements of the spine (flexion, extension, right and left side bend, right and left rotation) as well as the main postural strength muscles of the spine.
This is really two poses but they are typically done in concert with one another. This is a great pose flow to work on both extension and flexion of the spine. In addition, you can get some core engagement of the abdominals as well as the arm muscles.
This is also excellent pose flow to warm up the spine, especially first thing in the morning if you tend to feel tight or stiff.
These two poses will work on flexion and extension of the spine. The direction typically lacking for most is extension, which helps to reverse the forward slouched posture as described above.
Right and left side bending of the spine. This also helps activate the obliques (abdominals) as well as stretch the hip flexors if they’re especially tight.
Right and left rotation of the spine. This motion is important for daily activities when going to reach for something or even simple activities like turning to load the dishwasher or the dryer or getting into or out of your car.
Extension of the spine, stretching hip flexors. The hip flexors have connections to the low back so if they are tight, they will create a pull on the spine. This results in stiffness and pain.
If this feels like too much of a stretch, you can try a few things:
Simply lie flat on your stomach with the head turned to one side
Or, take a pillow (adjust the number or height of pillows as needed) and place it under your chest and just breathe here for a stretch.
If you’re looking for more of a stretch, you can press up onto the hands into cobra pose to gain more extension in the spine. Make sure you are able to maintain both hips in contact with the ground. If you can’t yet, stick with sphinx for a bit longer.
Strengthening for the glutes, hamstrings and quadriceps. Working on extension range of motion of the lumbar spine (low back) as well as stretching the front line of the body.
If you need more support, you can use a yoga block or a folded towel or blanket and place it under your sacrum. You can then rest your body weight onto the prop for a supported bridge pose. Make sure that your support is on the bony part of your low, low back, nearly at your buttocks. You don’t want it to be resting on your spine at all. You can adjust the height of your prop by moving your block to a different setting or folding your blanket more or less, depending on what your body needs or can tolerate.
If you want to make this more challenging, you can roll the shoulders underneath the body as shown above, opening up the chest wall, and clasp the hands underneath you, arms still resting on the floor or yoga mat.
Strengthening for the glutes, hamstrings and spinal extensors.
If it’s not comfortable having the palms down, you can rotate the shoulders for a palms up position.
Don’t worry about how much you can lift your leg off of the ground. If you are maintaining good form and you’re lifting even one inch, you’re getting the benefit of this exercise.
If this feels especially difficult, you can modify this by coming into table top position (on all fours as in cat/cow above), and lifting each leg out behind you alternately, as in the image below. The key here is to keep the hips pointing down toward the ground. The tendency is to let the hip roll back and the spine to rotate. Resist the urge to allow this to happen so that you can really work your spinal and hip extensor muscles.
Strengthening for spinal extensors, glutes and hamstrings as well as the scapular and shoulder muscles.
The ultimate goal would be to get both the chest and the raised leg parallel with the floor. However, it takes a bit of balance as well as strength in the spine and flexibility in the hamstrings of the standing leg to achieve this. It’s okay if you’re not there yet. You can come into a partial Warrior III, as long as you keep the spine straight and a long line of energy from the crown of the head to the foot on the extended leg.
If you need more assistance with balance, perform this pose next to a chair, wall or countertop. Place one hand on the support and the other can be out to the side.
If you’re looking for more of a balance challenge, bring the arms up overhead with biceps by the ears, into prayer position (anjali mudra) in the front of the chest or into prayer position behind the back (reverse anjali mudra).
Core muscles for general strengthening: spinal extensors, abdominals, glutes, quads, shoulders and scapular stabilizers
If you’re not quite able to hold dolphin plank with good form, you can perform a modified plank by coming up on the knees instead of the toes. The same principle applies in that you want to keep a long line of energy from the crown of the head down to, in this case, the knees.
If this is still feeling quite challenging, you can do dolphin plank in standing with forearms on a wall and feet back a little ways. Then, progress to dolphin plank on a countertop or edge of a bed. Progressively work your way down to the ground as your strength improves.
It’s important to not only stretch the back to work on spinal range of motion and muscle flexibility, but also to work on strengthening the back, abdominals and other core muscles (hips, shoulders) in order to improve your posture, and thus, your pain.
With improved flexibility and strength, maintaining a good upright posture will become much easier.
Posture. Flexibility. Strength.
You can do it. You can improve your back pain with these exercises and tips.