Although yoga is over 5,000 years old, the ancient Indian mind-body practice only became widespread in Western societies as of the 1980s (1). Since then, it has continually gained in popularity, and now over 36 million Americans practice it regularly (2).
There are lots of reasons why so many people have taken up yoga. Some practice it to increase their flexibility, relieve stress, and/or become more physically fit. Others specifically do yoga back pain exercises to try and free themselves from chronic back pain. Are you someone who suffers from recurrent back pain? If so, you might want to consider giving yoga a shot and see if it helps.
Can Yoga Cure Lower Back Pain?
You already know that there are loads of different back pain treatment options out there. Maybe you’ve tried some of them; with varying levels of success (or no success at all). From OTC pain relievers and opioids to physical therapy, acupuncture, and surgery, there are lots of ways you can try to lessen or eliminate the pain you feel. And yet with 80% of the U.S. population experiencing back pain at least once during their lives and one-tenth of those (or around 16 million adults) living with chronic back pain (3), one thing is clear enough: these treatments don’t work consistently for everyone.
So, can yoga help back pain? Is this a non-medical treatment option that might alleviate the annoying pain you feel in your lower or upper back day-in-and-day-out? The answer is, yes, it might. According to a study that performed a meta-analysis of other studies (for a total of 967 patients with chronic low back pain) that investigated the effectiveness of yoga exercises for lower back pain, evidence showed that yoga does indeed help to combat back pain for the short-term and sometimes for the long-term too (4).
Another study published in the Holistic Nursing Practice journal last year also discovered that yoga back pain exercises and other movement-based treatments like tai chi can provide relief from lower back pain. During the study, researchers examined 32 other studies and found that the practice of both yoga and tai chi led to improved mobility and less pain, in addition to reduced anxiety, depression, and “psychological distress” (5).
This is great news because not only does yoga not involve any medication or surgery, it is also something many of us can do. It’s easily accessible and can be done at home (simply find a yoga session on YouTube, play it on your TV, and do your yoga exercises for back pain right there on your living room floor). It’s inexpensive — all you need is a yoga mat, which can be affordably purchased on Amazon or even at Five Below (although higher-quality mats cost more). It also doesn’t take long with sessions usually lasting between 30 and 90 minutes in length.
What Are The Best Yoga Poses For Lower Back Pain?
Since yoga has the potential to help alleviate chronic back pain, you might be wondering which yoga back pain exercises are the most effective. In other words, what moves should you do? While it’s always super helpful when an instructor leads you through exercises during a session (whether online or in-person), we put together a list of three yoga stretching exercises for lower back pain that you can do all by yourself (6).
Yoga Back Pain Exercise #1: Downward Dog
One of the most well-known yoga positions is the downward dog position on your hands and heels. Begin by making sure that your wrists are in alignment with your shoulders and that your knees are aligned under your hips. Then, spread your fingers out and press into your palms. Next, lift your knees off the floor as you tuck in your toes. Straighten your legs as you push your hips up and back so you look like an upside-down V. Push your heels into your mat and breathe deeply as you relax your muscles.
Yoga Back Pain Exercise #2: Low Lunge
As gracefully as you can (remember, this takes practice, so try not to get frustrated), move from downward dog into a low lunge by moving your right foot forward and placing it between your hands, keeping your right knee aligned with your right ankle. Then lower your other knee and slide it backward. Put the top of your left foot on the floor and make your torso long and strong. Sweep your arms out to the sides and then up over your head. Look up as you drop your tailbone down towards the floor. After you breathe and release, switch to the other side of your body.
Yoga Back Pain Exercise #3: Reclining Spinal Twist
Move into a laying position with your back on the floor. Cross your knees with your feet out to the sides and then twist your legs to the left and onto the ground. Put both of your arms out to your sides. Turn your head in the opposite direction of your legs (in this case, towards the right) and then relax and breathe before switching sides.
What Are The Best Yoga Poses For Upper Back Pain?
Since lower back pain is more common than upper back pain (7), we tend to read and hear a lot more about yoga for pain in the lower back than the upper. But there are plenty of yoga exercises for upper back pain as well. See below for some of these recommended yoga positions:
Yoga Back Pain Exercise #4: Cat-Cow
To get into the cat-cow position, make your body into a tabletop by getting on your hands and knees and making your back flat. Align your shoulders above your wrists and your hips above your knees. Inhale and then push your tailbone up towards the sky while you lower your stomach towards the floor. This puts you into cow pose. Keep your neck elongated and squeeze your shoulders together.
As you exhale, round your spine towards the sky. Now you’re in cat pose. Pull your navel up and in while you tuck in your chin and look towards your stomach. In both poses you should feel nice stretches along your abdomen and mid-and upper-back.
Yoga Back Pain Exercise #5: Thread The Needle
Like cat-cow, you’ll want to start this exercise in tabletop position with your wrists in alignment with your shoulders. As you breathe in, lift your right arm off of your mat and twist it upwards. Then as you breathe out, thread your right arm underneath your left arm. As you do this, your right temple and shoulder will naturally come to rest on your mat. Move your left fingers out more towards the top of the mat to feel a stretch within your right shoulder. Hold for several breaths and then switch sides.
Yoga Back Pain Exercise #5: Child’s Pose with Side Stretch
Child’s pose is a common yoga position that you may already be familiar with. If not, start by putting your body into a tabletop position on your hands and knees. Move your feet in together as you push your knees out wide. Bring your hips back onto your heels. Walk your hands towards the top of your mat as you lower your chest closer to the floor. Rest your forehead on the mat. To feel the side stretch, move your hands over to the right side of your mat and press your hips in the opposite direction. After holding for several breaths, switch sides.
A Final Word From Lin
When it comes to yoga and back pain, many studies have now shown that this popular type of mind-body movement does in fact alleviate many cases of chronic upper and lower back pain. Given that yoga is so accessible, generally inexpensive, and doesn’t take too long to do, it seems like it’s worth it to at least give it a try! Especially if you’re struggling with persistent back pain and other treatments haven’t worked. Moreover, it’s non-invasive and non-addictive (unlike surgical and some medicinal options). Like acupuncture and massage, yoga fits in perfectly with a holistic and natural care plan for chronic back pain.
Here at Lin, we’re all about holistic pain management. Give us a try today, and we’ll pair you with a compassionate and knowledgeable health coach who will work with you to create a care plan that is customized for you and all of your health needs. And who knows, maybe your coach will throw a little yoga into your care plan if you like ;) Before you know it, you’ll be back to living your fullest, pain-free life ever!