Yoga for Back Pain

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The majority of adults have lower back pain at some point in their lives. This blog looks at why back pain is so prevalent and how yoga for back pain can help provide some relief.

With many of us working in makeshift offices in our own homes, the priority has often been trying to maintain a semblance of productivity during these strange times, rather than worrying whether our working set up is healthy in the long run.

Not everyone has a spare room available for setting up a comfortable home office that ensures a healthy working environment. A lot of people are resorting to ad hoc office set-ups ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous.

Some people have resorted to working cross-legged in the hallway while flatmates work in the other rooms. Others have been working for long periods of time on a couch, at a kitchen table or making do with a poor seating and desk combo.

We’ve all heard that sitting is the new smoking but it’s easy to brush it off as a catch phrase designed to scare. However like everything one chooses to do or not do, sitting for hours on end has health implications. Our guest writer Nadia wrote about this recently in Health Effects of Sedentary Behaviour.

Even with the perfect desk and chair set up, being seated for 8+ hours a day is simply not what our bodies were designed to do. Instead of being mostly sedentary our bodies were designed to be much more active and therefore it should come as no surprise when our poor stiff bodies start to send us strong signals to say how uncomfortable we are making them.

The extended work from home and the less than ideal conditions many of us are working under now are only exacerbating the problems associated with sitting for long periods of the day both at work and in our free time. Lower back pain, shoulder pain, repetitive strain on wrists and arms and necks bent down looking at laptops balanced on our laps. The pain and stiffness are the warning signs that our bodies are struggling under these conditions.

Lower back pain is a very common problem with about 80 percent of adults experiencing lower back pain at some point in their lives. It is the number one most common cause of job-related disability and a leading contributor to missed work days and visits to healthcare practitioners.

“In any 3-month period, about 1 in 4 adults in the U.S. has at least one day of back pain, mostly in the lower back.” 1

According to the NCBI “Low back pain becomes chronic (lasting more than 12 weeks ) in about 20%–30% of those afflicted.” 2

Whilst opioids/pain killers can be prescribed by GP’s to alleviate chronic back pain this is seen by some as relieving the symptoms but not getting to the root cause of the problem.

How Can Yoga Help With Back Pain

For office workers, using yoga for back pain can hep by moving the body into positions that stretch and contract the back and connected muscle groups. It can help the body to loosen those muscles that get stiff after being held still in the same position all day. In addition, yoga can help:

  • restore flexibility and mobility
  • improve your strength and endurance
  • improve your balance and stability
  • help to improve overall posture and body alignment
  • promote muscle relaxation
  • reduce stress and improve mood
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By strengthening the back muscles back pain can be reduced or avoided:

“Yoga helps increase strength in very specific muscles and muscle groups. Holding positions in yoga is not intended to be uncomfortable. However, it does require concentration and specific use of muscles throughout the body. Muscle strength improves by remaining in these yoga positions and incorporating various movements.

Many of the postures in yoga gently strengthen the muscles in the back, as well as the abdominal muscles. Back and abdominal muscles are essential components of the muscular network of the spine, helping the body maintain proper upright posture and movement. When these muscles are well conditioned, back pain can be greatly reduced or avoided.” 3

Not a panacea for all back pain

However, doing yoga for back pain should not be seen as a one size fits all solution. In fact, it can have negative effects if it is embarked upon without special consideration to your specific health and situation.

Yoga has the potential to worsen back pain if certain poses are performed or if poses are performed incorrectly. It is essential that you find an instructor that can modify poses as necessary for any back issues that you have. If you have a specific back condition or specific postural dysfunction, you could be doing poses in the yoga class that are making it worse or are not helping at all for your specific condition. If you feel pain every time after you finish yoga, then you know there’s something you’re doing that’s not helping you at all.

What does research say about Yoga for Back Pain?

There have been a number of studies that have found that yoga improves back pain as well as reducing reliance on pain medication.

Research in Boston found that a yoga class designed specifically for back pain can be as effective as physical therapy in relieving pain. The study consisted of 320 racially diverse, predominantly low-income participants in the Boston area, all of whom had chronic low back pain. The participants took part in classes over the course of one year and were guided through gentle poses, including cat-cow, triangle pose and child’s pose. Simple relaxation techniques were part of the class as well and more difficult poses, such as inversions, were avoided.

“When the study began, about 70 percent of the patients were taking some form of pain medication. At the end of three months, when the yoga classes were wrapping up, the percentage of yoga and PT participants still taking pain medication had dropped to about 50 percent.” 4

Other studies also found that yoga is beneficial for back pain

“A 2017 review of 12 studies (1,080 participants) of yoga for low-back pain concluded that yoga, when compared to interventions that did not involve exercise, produced small to moderate improvements in back-related function after 3 and 6 months and may also have been slightly more effective for pain.” 5

“A 2018 AHRQ review that looked at the impact of therapies for chronic low-back pain at least 1 month after the end of treatment found that yoga was associated with moderately greater effects on pain and slightly greater effects on function at 1-6 and 6-12 months, when compared to controls (such as being on a waiting list for a yoga program).” 6

“A San Diego VA study among Veterans with chronic low back pain found that those who completed a 12-week yoga program had better scores on a disability questionnaire, improved pain intensity scores, and a decline in opioid use.” 7

Which Yoga Poses Help Back Pain?

Esme’s guest blog ‘Yoga for Lower Back Pain’ provides a video and stills to break down various yoga moves that can be done to alleviate lower back pain.

We’ve also put together videos on this page providing yoga poses, sequences and stretches that may help to alleviate back pain.

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