If you have ever suffered from back pain, you know firsthand just how physically and emotionally draining it can be. Today, back pain sufferers can treat their pain with an assortment of over-the-counter medications, heat pads, ice packs, physical therapy sessions, and a number of other medical treatments like surgery or steroid injections.
But as more of us seek out non-invasive and drugless alternatives to treat ailments, yoga has been gaining popularity as a way to improve back pain.
Whether it is a sufferer’s first line of defense or last resort, yoga for back pain is an effective and non-invasive way to treat the symptoms of back pain and prevent it in the first place.
Here is what you need to know about yoga and back pain.
According to the American Chiropractic Association, 31 million Americans experience back pain at some point in their lives. And on any given day, half of working Americans are dealing with at least one symptom of back pain.
In a 2009 study funded by the National Institutes of Health, yoga helped people with chronic low back pain improve their functioning, boost their mood and ease their symptoms, more than conventional treatment. Studies like this are becoming so promising that hospitals and doctors around the country are prescribing yoga as part of their back pain treatment plans.
Yoga’s ability to strengthen and lengthen abdominal muscles, stretch and release tight back muscles and encourage the action of the legs, support healing and can potentially prevent a painful back pain relapse.
While back pain sufferers might be consistently told to develop a strong core in order to control their pain, attention must also be given to strengthening and lengthening the supporting muscles and limbs.
Here are two great yoga poses for back pain:
Downward Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana): This classic yoga posture is so healing for those who suffer from back pain because it supports spinal traction, strengthens the quadriceps and releases the hamstrings. Start on your hands and knees and as you exhale, extend your hips towards the ceiling as you straighten your knees and reach your ankles towards the mat. Focus on pressing your thighs back without locking your knees as you draw your shoulders away from your ears and down your back. Stay in this posture for one to three minutes, inhaling and exhaling deeply through your nose.
Child’s Pose (Balasana): This is a wonderful posture that can be done after completing downward dog. Simply come down on all fours, sit back on your heels with your knees as wide as your hips. Let the crown of your head rest on the mat in front of you as you lay your hands alongside your torso. Focus on lengthening your tailbone as your shoulder blades press wide against your back. Stay in the posture for one to three minutes.
Like with any new activity, get approval from your doctor first. Also, seek out teachers who specialize in the therapeutic benefits of yoga. Certified Iyengar, Viniyoga, Ashtanga and Anusara instructors have substantial training in working with people with back pain. Their trained expertise can support your journey to a pain-free back.
For more on the many health benefits of Yoga, check out our “Yoga For” series.