Yoga for Back Pain

Up to 80% of people will have back pain at some point in their lives. If the pain is chronic, it can impact everything that you do. Sometimes the injury is the result of the body trying to protect itself; other times it can be the outcome of a sudden over-extension.

A study published in the November 2016 Orthopedic Journal of Sports Medicine shows that injury incidence has the potential to increase almost 8 times among those 65 and older. Yet at the same time, the National Institute of Health has studied that yoga eases moderate to severe chronic back pain. So, which is it - does yoga help or hurt the back? The answer is that it can do both. However, the good news is that most benefits can be achieved and most injuries can be avoided when proper care is exercised.

"Proper form is especially important for people with back pain"

According to Dr. Laura Elison from Harvard Medical School, yoga-related back injuries result from people "quickly dropping into a yoga pose without gradually lengthening into it."  Harvard Men's Health Watch's Matthew Solan says,

"Yoga is one of the more effective tools for helping soothe low back pain"

So, what can you do to ensure that you're getting the most out of your stretch?

  • Each movement should be intentional and active - if you don't feel that your muscles are engaged, chances are there is something off with your form. 
  • Try not to move so quickly that it impacts your form. Your body has natural limitations and mechanisms to signal that you are going too far. By moving too quickly, you risk 'jerking' into a posture before your body sends the signal that you're approaching your natural limit to a healthy stretch.
  • Start slowly. Just like you wouldn't jump straight on a treadmill at your max speed, neither should you push yourself until your body has had adequate time to warm up.

A double-blind study in the June 20, 2017 Annals of Internal Medicine showed that carefully adapted sets of yoga postures do help to reduce back pain and improve mobility. 

As always, consult your physician before starting any exercise program as well as let your yoga teacher know of any specific limitations or goals. "By mindfully practicing yoga, people can safely improve their mobility and strength while stretching tight and aching back muscles."