Effective Yoga Exercises to Relieve Lower Back Pain

July 16, 2020 Published by

Have you ever woken up in the morning with a tingling sensation in your lower back? Has unbearable back pain kept you off work? Has the constant strain in your muscles started affecting your daily life? This is the consternation for many people worldwide. Back pain is just as widespread as the common cold! Surprising, isn’t it?

However, being a common problem doesn’t take away from the acute pain and distress it causes, eventually leading to trouble in movement. If you have tried every over-the-counter medication, as well as those DIY remedies in vain, we would like to introduce you to the highly recommended art of Yoga, which may be just what the doctor ordered. 

Lower back pain can be crippling and can affect your daily activities. There are several reasons behind the pain, which are discussed below.  

Habitual Use of Lumbar or Misbalanced Pelvis

The lumbar is an anatomical term for the abdominal section of the torso. It lies between the diaphragm and the sacrum.  It is commonly referred to as the area of the lower spine or lower back. The lumbar spine naturally inclines inwards. So that it can handle the weight.

The lumbar is made of five vertebrae, L1 through L5, situated above the pelvic bones. So naturally, when the pain begins, it affects the entire region. It is the most weight-bearing part of the spine.

The lumbar area is used for structural support, movement, and the general functions of flexion, the ability to bend forward, and extension. It has a tiny amount of twisting ability to lean back. Hence, all activities that include flexion and extension, like walking, running, sitting, and standing, require the support of the lumbar. 

For this support, the lumbar region is dependent on the Core and Curve. 

Some people use the lumbar, the curve, while others use the abdominal and glutes, the core, for forward and backward movements. We require both the core and curve to move as they support and stabilize each other.  

People who use the lumbar curve only (weaker core) have their pelvis tilted forward, which is called anterior pelvic tilt. People who use the core to support the weight (lesser curve) have pelvic slightly tilted back, which is called posterior pelvic tilt.

Anterior Pelvic Tilt

The anterior pelvic tilt is when the pelvis is rotated forward, causing your spine to curve. In this position, the hip flexors shorten, and the hip extensors lengthen. It allows for an increased curvature of the lower spine, the lumbar lordosis. This usually results from an imbalance of muscles that pull on the pelvis or lumbar region. 

What happens is that when we use the lumbar curve, the curve arches inwards by a significant margin, resulting in the lumber lordosis mentioned above, also known as swayback. This enlarged curve causes pain in your lower back and neck, the exertion of pressure on the spine, causing discomfort.

While this leads to more mobility in the pelvis, it also causes instability as it pushes the spine from back to forward and places extra pressure on the back of the lumbar region. It compresses the soft tissue in between the bones.

Posterior Pelvic Tilt

The posterior pelvic tilt is when the pelvic bone rotates upwards and backward. Whether you’re exercising or simply standing, the position of your pelvis is critical to the overall health of your lower back. This happens when the tight abdominal muscles and the gluteus maximus pull the pelvis upwards, whereas the weaker, lower back muscles do not give a response.

When we use the glutes and abs, it leads to a posterior pelvic tilt. This exerts a lot of pressure on your lower back, leading to sciatica. This condition affects mobility but lends stability. The lack of movement puts an extra burden on the lower back when you move your legs. It puts more pressure on the lumbar region from front to back. It may also rupture the spinal disc and cause bulge disc or herniation.

How to Resolve this Problem?

If you have a habit of using the pelvic movement, then we use the lumber region in only one way, which stops the movement and over the time spine loses its mobility either way, which creates the deficiency of blood supply in the region, which causes pain. How do we resolve it? With cobra pose.

Cobra Pose

This is what students need to understand. You can’t expect Yoga to benefit you if you don’t leave your habits behind. Incorporating those habits into your Yoga poses will only make things worse, which explains why Yoga can also aggravate back pain instead of alleviating it.

Some students will use the curve of the spine, the anterior tilt to perform cobra pose. Since all the burden ends up falling on the lumbar, it will lead to a deeper lumbar curve. If students continue to performing cobra in the same way, they are bound to end up with a deeper curve, and that will definitely lead to pain and may even exacerbate the condition.

Some students will use the muscular activity, the posterior tilt to perform the cobra pose. This proves to be a more conducive method as it helps to support and balance the spine. This will support the back bending, without letting the lumbar bear all the weight.  We need posterior pelvic tilt in back bending to protect lumbar from over curving.

  • Thoracic Stiffness as a Result of an Unhealthy Lifestyle

The thoracic region is the longest region of the spine. It runs from the base of the neck right down to the abdomen. It is the spinal region that is attached to the rib cage. This region is responsible for the mobility and strength of the shoulders. 

This region is connected with several internal organs. When we experience problems in maintaining our daily schedule, it exerts a burden on the internal organ. It causes different types of issues related to digestion and the functioning of the internal organs. Eating, drinking, and sleeping habits are some of the major factors affecting this region. Without healthy lifestyle changes, you cannot balance this region.

The common mistake people make is trying to stress on movement without inducing lifestyle changes. Over time, this renders muscles in the region stiffer, minimizing the movement to prevent damage to nerves in that region. Exerting force will only end up damaging the lumbar.

The thoracic region has two functions that work in conjunction with the lumbar region.

  • Minimal flexion and extension: Although the thoracic is very limited in flexion and extension, it has a significant impact on the shoulder movement. Hence, if there is a lack of movement in the thoracic region, we have to use our lumber for arms movement. This extra use of the lumbar for both arm and leg movement results in placing more burden on the lumbar region. Moreover, people who don’t have a thoracic opening, place all the pressure on the lumbar region when they try to extend the spine.
  • Lots of twisting: The thoracic region has a lot of twisting action that works as the shock absorber of the movement. This acts as a facilitator of lumber safety. Due to the tightness in the thoracic region, we lose our twisting ability, which puts our lumber at risk. As soon as we get a bigger movement, our lumber cannot bear it and suffers damage. Twisting is a complete core movement. If we lack in the twisting movement, then it means the core is weaker on the side. Due to this condition, we place extra weight on one side of the lumbar region, which leads to pain.

Does Yoga help in Correction?

The answer is both yes and no. Yoga can either aggravate the pain or relieve it.

Yoga can be complicated, particularly for a beginner and someone with back pain. Learning the right steps of performing Yoga poses is how its full benefits can be gained. Practicing Yoga using wrong techniques can actually be harmful and may even worsen the back pain.

Yoga poses involve bending backward and forward, and doing that incorrectly can place unnecessary tension on the backbone, ligaments, and joint stability.  

For example, if someone is doing Yoga that involves major movements with the pelvis, leading to misbalance, students will increase the intensity to match, hence, increasing the pain they feel end up experiencing. The adage ‘No pain no gain’ doesn’t work here.

Example: Cobra Pose

You will experience pain if somebody doesn’t have the right thoracic movement and tries to increase the intensity of movements, especially where they are moving both hands and legs together. The lacing of twisting won’t let students go deeper and move all joints to the extreme, which Yoga poses usually require.

What Should be the Right Approach to Cure?

Be conscious, have patience, be on time.

Practicing yoga the right way can help with the flexibility and strength of the back. For the students, looking to improve mobility and strength, the correct back stretches and poses can do wonders. Being careful about the movements you make is the key.

If you already have pain in the region, try to be conscious about what movement is causing pain and what movement is relieving pain. Try to work both sides but keep the intensity of the movement low and without putting too much weight.

Patience is the key to using the Yoga movement to cure back pain. You need to start with two basic movements of the pelvis, which will slowly develop the core and curve without putting the weight of the arm and legs.

Yoga is still a physical movement, just like any other type of exercise, which means injuries might occur with the wrong movement or pressure. The main issue arises when students don’t follow the right speed and form. Hurrying into a pose without lengthening into it can make the back pain even worse.

Instead of jerking your body and performing fast movements, it is essential to practice the pose in controlled, slow motions. Otherwise, you might end up with even more injuries aside from your back pain.

Utilize the muscle as a solid foundation to move. Lengthen and stretch out the body into the cow or cobra pose to relieve back pain. Bend and twist the body until you feel resistance, hold the position for as long as it is comfortable and then go back to your initial position.

Here are some tips to remember when working your back muscles to relieve and prevent further back pain:

  • Avoid extending and twisting at the same time as it will compress the intervertebral joints
  • Use props like bolsters and blocks to get additional support when needed instead of placing pressure on your body
  • If forward bends are painful while standing, perform them while sitting
  • Always ask for help if you are unsure about a pose
  • Opt for a modified pose to prevent further pain and injury

Cat and Cow Pose

The first movement to try is the ‘Cat and Cow’ wherein you move your pelvis back and forth. This is touted as the most beneficial Yoga exercise for lower back pain before you move on to any intensive movements. Maintain patience after the initial relief and curb the urge to do more and get rid of pain fast as this doesn’t work. Sometimes, it can take from six months to a year for the pain to subside entirely.

If pain is just starting, then we can stop practicing any harsh and long movement. Before that, we can work on things like pelvic balance, twisting, and thoracic movements.

Creating a Routine

Try to create a routine and perform the main everyday tasks on time: sleep, wakeup, breakfast, lunch, dinner, and exercise. Following this time table for a while will let your body adjust and prepare itself for the upcoming activities.

For example, when you eat at the same time every day, your body produces different types of enzymes that catalyze digestion. If we are eating at a different time every day, our body cannot be efficient enough, which will put a burden on the internal organs.

How Would I Know which movement is Good or Bad (posterior or interior PT) and what type of food is good?

There is a misconception that if you have posterior pelvic tilt, then you should perform more anterior pelvic tilt to get balance faster. Our body works with different types of receptors and sensors like GTO, reciprocal inhibition, and muscle spindles. Both of the movements support each other and help us to achieve balance faster.

Our body can balance itself only when both of these sides are working properly, for example, the cat and cow pose. The key is to focus on both sides, for there is no way you can achieve balance without working both sides. Even if you want to strengthen the abs and glutes, you have to work on the lumbar curve too. To get the lumbar curve, you have to work on the glutes and abs as well. Make controlled movements and stretch the body and keep your mind focused.

Teachers must intervene by providing suggestions and feedback on the correct posture. A wrong posture can have a significant impact on the spinal alignments of the students and can contribute more significant back pain. If the incorrect posture keeps ongoing for years, it can lead to arthritis in the joints because of compression.

Often, the student isn’t even aware of the stiffness and pain, and might not even be aware of hypertension or that it is the cause of the pain. As a result, the exaggerated lumber curve gets ingrained firmly in all their movements, gradually making it worse, unless the teacher corrects the position. 

It is crucial to observe the students and help them correct their posture and movements as this will not only meditate the movement of the pose but will also have a positive impact on their bodies. They would become more conscious about the right and wrong movements, which will protect them from potential injury and pain. It will also help significantly in reducing their existing back pain.

Aside from the correct movement and posture, food plays a vital role in individuals’ overall wellness. Yoga practice encourages the nourishment of the body, which starts with food. Practicing yoga every day, but consuming caffeine and sugar would not reap many benefits.

A balanced and complete diet is good. The regional diet works as well. People harbor the misconception that if we eat healthily, we will get better effects. According to Ayurveda, anything which is more than is required is poison for us, regardless of how good or expensive it is. Therefore, just follow your regional diet and eat proper seasonal vegetables. The diet should be energizing, one that helps you in creating a peaceful and calmer mind.

Consuming a well-balanced diet will not only provide you with the right nutrition, but will improve your relationship with food, help you sleep better, and improve your yoga practice.

Advice for Yoga Teachers

Being a yoga teacher means you have plenty of responsibility. It is not just about helping them learn about the poses; it is also about showing them the right way of moving their body, helping them gain stability and strength. It is about transforming their minds and ensuring they find a balance.

Teaching students with back pain can be complex, as they require more attention. Every one experiencing back pain is different, and no two students are the same. It requires focus and attention on the teachers’ part, to learn more about the students and help them accordingly.

Performing a wrong pose or an incorrect movement can lead to additional injuries and pain. The key is to start slow and ensure they don’t place unnecessary stress and pressure on themselves in hopes of getting better.

As a Yoga teacher, you are not licensed to perform any kind of treatment unless you have a medical background. So, don’t tell any student that you will cure their back pain. Many different fast-track methods actually don’t make you healthy but just cure the symptoms for the time being.

Hence, it would be difficult for the teacher to encourage the patient to have patience and let the body cure itself and just support its journey with lifestyle and movements.

A few essential factors that can help you as a teacher are to consider their strength, balance, flexibility, health, and age. This way, you would be able to determine which technique and pose they can perform. Restorative or therapeutic yoga is recommended for students with limitations as it focuses on gentle movements and poses while using props and modifications.

Be sure to narrate general precautions in the class, and avoid giving medical advice, unless you are qualified. Encourage the students to consult their health care professionals before starting yoga or if the back pain isn’t improving.

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