20 Jun 5 Yoga Poses for Back Pain
Does your back hurt? You’re not alone! Here are five gentle yoga poses for chronic back pain.
What a pain in the… back!
In a world where we spend so much of our time sitting at a desk, in the car or on the couch, it’s no wonder most of us experience some kind of non-specific musculoskeletal pain at some point. As an Exercise Physiologist, I hear a lot of complaints of pain and in particular, chronic low back pain (pain that persists longer than 12 weeks).
Why do I get back pain?
The short of it is this: when we’re sitting down, the muscles at the front of our body are in a shortened position, whilst the muscles on the back of our body are in a lengthened position. Our bodies are really, really smart organisms that want to adapt to make our life easier. So, if we sit for 8-9 hours a day, our bodies will eventually adapt to this shape. It’ll add adhesion to the muscles around our hips and chest, and ‘tune-out’ from the muscles on our back body (since we don’t activate these much *cough, glutes*).
Solution 1 – Increasing neuromuscular connection
By waking up some of these ‘sleeping’ muscles, we increase our brains ability to communicate with that muscle (and the muscles that surround it) so that we can utilize them for movement.
A great example of this is our glutes. As I hinted at above, many of us sit on our bum all day long and as a result, we struggle to consciously activate and squeeze our glutes. Try it now, lay down on your back and see if you can squeeze your glutes one at a time (and you’re not allowed to let your hamstrings switch on!). It’s really hard for the majority of people!
Our glutes should be the biggest and strongest muscles on our body. They’re really important muscles! The main job of the glutes is to stabilise our pelvis, which gives rise to our spine – and that’s a pretty important structure. If we can’t recruit our glutes, then other muscles have to do the work that they should be doing, and this is how and why we often get tightness in our back.
If glutes don’t work, then these muscles here (see below) do the brunt of the work when we’re walking, stabilising, leaning, running, reaching, bending over, standing up, climbing the stairs etc.
Solution 2 – Lengthening the myofascia
Just as importantly, we need to lengthen the muscles and the fascia that have adapted to be short, tight, and a bit sticky from habitual sitting. This is where these yoga postures will come in handy!
Exercise is recommended in nearly all guidelines for chronic low back pain. While no one type of exercise has been shown to be superior, movement therapies like Yoga are gaining in popularity. Yoga is as effective as other exercise types for improving pain and function. With that in mind, treat your back to this short routine of yoga!
Yoga poses for back pain
Aim to hold each posture for about 4-5 minutes. When you’re setting yourself up, you don’t want to go past 60% stretch. A gentle, light sensation is okay – but nothing strenuous. When we go past this point, the central nervous system’s automatic response is to protect our muscles and joints, so the muscle will actually be holding on to protect you!
Lastly, try to pay attention to your breath – particularly noticing the length of your inhale and the length of your exhale. Try to make them smooth, steady and even – this helps put our nervous system at ease and will allow the tissue (muscle and fascia) to ‘soften’ a bit more.
Forward fold, foot to thigh
Great for the hamstrings, the glutes and the fascia that back muscles insert into across our sacrum and our adductors (inner thigh muscles). You can use a pillow or a rolled-up blanket to support your forehead so the stretch isn’t too intense.
Half pigeon pose
This accesses the hip flexors of the leg behind you. If you can, play with gently engaging the glute and see how that changes the sensations at the front of the hip. Chest can stay up, or you can fold forwards onto a pillow. Note: the knee should be out wider than your hips, and if it doesn’t feel great in your knees – don’t do it.
Bound angle pose
This is a favourite of mine. Feet together, knees out wide. Hands can be out like cactus arms, on your belly, or above your head – whatever feels good for you! If it’s too intense, pop a rolled-up towel under each knee.
Make sure your knees are relatively even (the top knee will try to crawl back), and then twist from above your navel. It doesn’t matter if both shoulders aren’t on the ground, as you relax into the pose they may head in that direction. Your arm can be outstretched or you can pop the hand behind the head.
Legs up wall
This can be done with or without props. I definitely recommend elevating the hips either on a yoga block or on a rolled up blanket. Arms out (as pictured) is a nice way to open up the fascia in the chest area. If it feels like a struggle to keep your legs up, you can pop a belt/strap around them… and then relax into this juicy pose.
What should you do now?
- Check in with your glutes daily. Once that’s easy, it’s time to challenge them with some load.
- Do these five yoga poses for back pain at the start and/or end of each day, and see what differences you notice
- Set little reminders throughout the day to get up, sit up straight, elongate your spine, pull your shoulders back, squeeze your glutes, stretch, or whatever works for you!
Now let’s be honest, there’s definitely more than two solutions to help you manage your back pain. There’s probably hundreds! But increasing your bodies neuromuscular connections and lengthening out the myofascia is a great place to start!
Your body is unique, so your pain management should also be unique to you. If your pain experience persists longer than expected and you need assistance with an exercise program or becoming more active, an Exercise Physiologist can help. Exercise Physiologists are tertiary trained in exercise prescription for chronic conditions specific to each individuals needs.
Jacinta Brinsley is an Accredited Exercise Physiologist at iNform Health and Fitness Solutions, and is currently completing a PHD on Mental Health.