When working with patients I am often asked about yoga and back pain.
Some of the common questions I am asked include:
- “Should I start yoga to help my back?”
- “My back is in a lot of pain, should I go to yoga class?”
- “In yoga, there’s this one move that always hurts my back, should I stop doing it?”
Yoga is a great activity that I have participated in for over a decade.
I had the opportunity to get my introduction to yoga in a series of one-on-one classes with an excellent instructor name Gene. Gene was able to personalize the classes to fit my needs and abilities. We were able to focus on areas that needed attention and safely choose the best approach for the most benefit.
That one-on-one training was an invaluable lesson on breathing and body mechanics that still benefits me today.
Although, you don’t need one-on-one training to benefit from yoga.
When practiced with a good teacher, yoga can help you attain many health benefits including: strength, flexibility, body awareness, and relaxation. Those benefits can often help prevent back pain, bring relief from a variety of musculoskeletal aches and even help improve posture. I am a big fan of yoga and the many benefits you can achieve with regular practice.
While yoga is a great way to improve your health, I have also treated many yoga students and teachers.
Some came to see me for help improving their performance in class, but most were due to yoga injuries. Some of the common injuries I have seen in practice are: lower back and neck strains, rotator cuff tears, wrist pain, knee injuries, and herniated spinal discs.
Injuries are a common occurrence with most physical activities, even those that promote health. So it’s not surprising that as more people take up yoga, that we will see more injuries due to the practice.
Yet, overall yoga has a much greater potential to improve your health than to cause injury.
Now that I’ve shared a little of my background with yoga, let’s discuss those 3 questions from above.
1) Should I start yoga to help my back?
If you don’t have a back injury then the practice of yoga may help to keep you pain free. The movements and breathing can strengthen your back muscles, increase flexibility, and even elongate your spine.
With regular practice, you’ll be able to reach greater levels of health and wellbeing. For all the reasons above, I often recommend giving yoga a try.
Although, if you don’t enjoy yoga, then I don’t recommend forcing your way through a regular practice just to help improve your posture, prevent back pain, or increase flexibility, there are other ways to accomplish those goals.
2) My back is in a lot of pain, should I go to yoga class?
This is difficult to answer because back pain can have several causes. If the pain you are feeling is due to tight muscles, then yoga may help relax your body and bring you relief. If you have an injury at the joint or a muscle tear, the movements may increase your pain.
Remember yoga is not a system of analysis or treatment for back pain or any musculoskeletal injuries. When participating in a group class you are one of many, and that class was not designed for you or your injury. Even if you have an excellent teacher who gives you modifications during the class, it’s not the same as a personalized treatment program.
If you’re in pain, struggling through a general yoga class may not be the best thing to do. Although, using a few personalized asanas (yoga postures) matched with breath work, could be exactly what you need to feel better and speed the healing process.
3) In yoga, there’s this one move that always hurts my back, should I stop doing it?
When I get asked this question, it’s important to clarify what’s actually happening.
For example, do you have an injury that is preventing you from performing the yoga move? If so, then yes, stop doing the move.
If you have a recent injury you can go back to working on the yoga posture after your injury heals.
If you have an old injury or a serious injury that has left you with restricted movement, strength, or stability, you may have to avoid this movement.
Are you performing the pose incorrectly? If that’s the case, then it would be helpful to get some one-on-one help to improve your technique so you may practice safer.
Additionally, some moves may not be a good fit for your body mechanics. If you don’t have an injury and you’ve had some expert guidance on properly performing the move and it still creates pain, then listen to your body and back off.
Remember why you started yoga in the first place – it’s not about being able to perform a particular movement, it’s about improving your health and life.
Should you do yoga for back pain?
I participated in yoga for over a decade and often recommend people try it out. For some, yoga is a great fit and provides a lot of benefit, but not everyone enjoys the practice. Some people find it boring, unchallenging, expensive, and don’t appreciate the yoga culture.
When it comes to back pain, yoga can be an effective tool, but if you don’t enjoy it there are other methods that can help you reach your health and fitness goals.