The Australian Bureau of Statistics reports that 14% of the population experience long-term back pain, and many more will experience it at some point over their lifetime. It’s one of the most common health conditions in the country, and most of us know someone who has complained of this kind of pain.
‘Back pain’ describes a range of conditions related to the bones, joints, connective tissue, muscles and nerves of the back.
Common back problems include:
- Pain in the middle, lower and upper back caused by injury.
- Tingling, numbness and weakness in the legs that start from the lower back.
- Narrowing in the canal of the spine through which the spinal cord passes.
- Degeneration of the spine caused by wear and tear on the joints.
- Pressure on a segment of the spinal nerve attached to the spinal cord.
- Neck pain or a stiff neck caused by disc degeneration.
Back pain can be caused by anything from lifting heavy objects, to a soft mattress, to household chores, a poor diet and even wearing high heels.
When it’s long-term and intense, it’s the kind of pain that makes it difficult to go about your daily life. So when yoga experts suggest that yoga can help with back pain, you sit up and listen.
Yoga is a vast system of practices and philosophy that originated in India. The most common and well-known yoga is Hatha Yoga, which involves physical postures, specific breathing techniques, and relaxation exercises.
Using yoga for pain management has been thought to minimise medication usage and help chronic pain sufferers lead happier, fuller lives. Many people do not realise that yoga and its concentrative techniques were originally designed and practiced to make the body healthy and strong, allowing one to sit immobile for meditation without discomfort.
Yoga helps promote relaxation when encountering stress and agitation. It traditionally serves as a ‘warm up’ for formal sitting and lying mindfulness meditation practice. Yoga can also loosen the tight muscles that so often cause back pain.
Reviews of the last 20 years of scientific trials suggest that yoga can significantly improve pain, disability and mood in people with persistent pain. Most evidence is for the benefits of yoga for chronic back pain, although there is also research that shows it can help arthritis, headache/migraine, irritable bowel syndrome, fibromyalgia, and carpal tunnel syndrome. Emerging evidence suggests this is the result of improved muscle flexibility, reduced inflammation, increased release of pain-relieving endorphins, improved confidence and a greater sense of control.
What are the best techniques?
The best yoga techniques for pain management are relaxation, meditation and breathing. These three aspects of yoga act to distract your mind from pain, reduce your body’s tension in reaction to pain, and provide an opportunity to “move through” the pain instead of resisting it. Breathing techniques focus your mind’s attention on one point, namely, the sound of the breath as it is drawn in and out, slowly and rhythmically. Relaxation training is a step-by-step process of relaxing each of your body’s muscles, which helps counteract your body’s natural tendency to increase muscle tension in an unconscious effort to “push” away pain.
Practicing meditation regularly builds a foundation of strength by opening a door to a part of yourself that is not governed by the demands of the physical body.
What are the best poses?
1. Pigeon pose
Yoga instructor Stacy Porter recommends the Pigeon Pose to help relieve the pain caused from sitting at a desk daily. The Pigeon Pose is one you can incorporate into your daily routine. It’s a pose perfect for tight hips because it stretches the hip rotators and the hip flexors and requires substantial external rotation in the front leg and substantial internal rotation in the back leg. If you practice this pose consistently, you’ll notice an increased suppleness throughout your practice. This pose will give you a good base for all your back pain-relieving poses.
Watch this video to see how to do pigeon pose:
2. Child’s Pose (Balasana)
It is a resting pose practiced in the fetal position. It’s main anatomical focus is the thighs, although it’s useful in relieving back, shoulder, neck and hip strain. Jennifer says this pose works because it helps align the spine and takes pressure off the lower back. The full body, gravitational pull of the child’s pose is said to imbue users with a great sense of physical, mental and emotional relief.
Watch this video to see how to do Child’s Pose:
3. Cat-Cow Stretch (Marjaryasana and Bitilasana)
Jennifer also recommends the cat-cow stretch as it brings flexibility to the spine and the stretch to your back, hips and abdomen is great for relieving lower back pain and sciatica. International yoga instructor Candace Moore, says that this pose is often found at the beginning of yoga sequences as it helps to warm up the spine.
Go back and forth between Cow and Cat on each inhale and exhale, matching your movements to your own breathing. Do this for 5-10 breaths and try to keep an even distribution of weight between your hands and knees. The benefits of Cat-Cow include: improved posture and balance, strengthening and stretching of the spine and neck, stretching of the hips, abdomen and back, increasing coordination, massage and stimulation of organs in the belly, greater emotional balance and relieving of stress.
Allie Flavio, yoga teacher and author of The Journal Junkie, says this pose will strengthen your lower back and she adds a helpful tip – if you have sensitive joints, support your knees by folding the mat or placing a blanket underneath it.
You can watch this pose in action here:
4. Bridge Pose (Setu Bandha Sarvangasana)
The bridge pose strengthens the glutes, hamstrings and core by creating stability through the torso. Once in the pose, deepen it by lifting your heels off the floor and push your tailbone up, a little closer to the pubis. Then, from the lift of the tail, stretch the heels back to the floor again. The benefits of the bridge pose include: stretches the chest, neck and spine, calms the brain and helps alleviate stress, rejuvenates tired legs, improves digestion and reduces anxiety, fatigue, backache, headache and insomnia.
Watch bridge pose here:
5. Happy Baby Pose (Ananda Balasana)
Sometimes referred to as the Dead Bug Pose, the Happy Baby pose can provide significant relief to lower back pain or discomfort. As you lie in position, this supine stretch works out kinks in your hips, back and buttocks. The pose releases the lower back and sacrum, opens hips, inner thighs and groin, stretches and soothes the spine, calms the brain and stretches the hamstrings.
Try them out
It’s important to remember that in yoga, there is no one perfect pose. Every pose is entirely dependent on the body in which that pose is performed as well as the context in which the pose is performed. The “perfect pose” is the pose that best suits the person doing the pose at that moment.
Disclaimer: The Herron blog is interested in general community well being, and does not imply that Herron products should be used for serious ailments without the advice or recommendation from your healthcare practitioner.All information presented on the Herron website is meant for general knowledge and never meant as a diagnosis of prescription. Please always contact your doctor for health related matters.