If you’ve ever experienced low back pain before, you know that it ranges in severity from mildly annoying to so severe you have to take off work because you can’t get out of bed.
It’s estimated that 15%-20% of Americans will experience low back pain every year and that up to 60% of Americans experience low back pain at some point over the course of his or her life. In addition, low back pain is the fifth most common reason for visits to a primary care doctor and the number one reason why people go to see orthopedists or neurosurgeons.
You can imagine that the cost of low back pain is high, not just because of direct medical costs, but also because of lost productivity from work. But you might not believe that the estimated national cost of treating low back pain in the United States ranges from $38-$50 BILLION a year!!! (That deserves more then 3 exclamation points, but I’m not going to get carried away. For more crazy low back pain stats, check out this research.)
Why yoga can help relieve low back pain
More and more doctors are recommending yoga as a great antidote to low back pain, and here’s why.
A good yoga routine moves the spine in 7 directions. This movement helps to lubricate the joints, which helps us feel looser. When we feel looser, we get more range of movement making everyday activities that require us to move our spine (there are a lot of them), easier and more free.
A good yoga instructor will also focus on alignment and make sure you have good posture. Paying attention to alignment in your own body will help you identify habitual movement patterns that could be contributing to your low back pain. If you’re able to fix your posture, you may be able to relieve some of the tension that is resulting in pain.
It’s hard to prescribe a general routine for low back pain because every person experiences low back pain for different reasons. The only way to truly get rid of YOUR low back pain is to fully understand what is causing that pain in the first place. And the answer isn’t as simple as getting a diagnosis from the doctor that you have a bulging/herniated/slipped disk, etc. Yes, those will probably cause pain and be uncomfortable but there’s another layer there. Why did you develop a bulging/herniated/slipped disk in the first place? Do you know? Maybe, maybe not, but it helps to think about your daily lifestyle habits to see if there is anything you can do to prevent further damage and pain.
With that said, my experience teaching yoga in general has taught me that getting the spine moving gently is a great way to start to combat some of that pain. If you’re familiar with Yoga Tune Up®, there are some great therapy ball rolling exercises to help loosen the thoracolumbar fascia, which incidentally happens to be very highly innervated and may be another source of a large amount of our back pain (if you’re a research & anatomy nerd, you can read all about this new discovery here.)
A word on backbends
As you move through the postures that I teach in today’s video, you’ll come across a Cobra pose, which can be a controversial posture for people suffering from low back pain. Commonly, people who experience low back pain are afraid to bend backwards because that causes even more pain, or bending backwards may have been how you injured your back in the first place. (I realize these are all extreme generalizations, but I think it’s worth mentioning.)
Pay particular attention to the cueing I use for this version of (baby) Cobra. My goal is to help you strengthen your back muscles rather then stretch your spine. The most common mistake I see when people move into a backbend is they try to take it to the extreme – and extremes can quickly cause injury. A strong back will be less susceptible to sudden injury, and we must work to find a balance between strength and flexibility in our spine so we can remain supple rather then rigid.
My general rule of thumb is that you should never feel pain in a backbend. If you do experience pain, or an uncomfortable sensation that no longer qualifies as a stretch, then this is your body telling you you’ve gone too far and you’re past the point of receiving the benefits from the posture. Back off a little, find your breath, and see if you can recapture a feeling of ease.
There’s my spiel on backbends as a tool for helping you to strengthen and heal your spine.
Now, for the practice!