Yoga to Manage Back Pain: Poses to Try (and Some to Avoid)

If I took an informal survey of yogis to find out why they started their practice, I’d expect many responses to be, “I started doing yoga to manage back pain.” Stress relief would probably be up there too. And since stress often contributes to back pain,people who use yoga to manage stress may have less back pain. In other words, they’re using yoga to manage back pain without even realizing it!

Studies on Yoga to Manage Back Pain

Help for back pain is among the most scientifically-supported reasons to start a yoga practice. A 2017 study in The Annals of Internal Medicine showed that yoga might even replace the need for pain medication. This is good news. Unlike most medications, yoga’s side effects are all good!

How to Practice Yoga to Manage Back Pain

If you have back pain and want to try yoga to manage it, start with gentle or restorative classes. The emphasis should be on poses that target tight muscles in the hips and lower back. The goal in managing back pain with yoga is to lengthen the spine and strengthen muscles around it, including the core and hips. A healthy spine and strong muscles help reduce the load on your back.

And while you may not think of balancing poses here, they play a role in yoga for back pain as well. Why? Being balanced and steady mean it’s less likely that you’ll compensate for unsteadiness by pulling a muscle or ending up with a back spasm.

Of course, if your pain is severe, you’ll want to talk to your doctor about whether to try yoga and how to approach it safely.

Yoga Poses for Back Pain

Many yoga classes, workshops, and videos specifically address back pain. There’s a short (ten-minute) sequence on the Track Yoga app you can use one or more times daily. It’s especially helpful if your back tends to get tight and achy from long hours at a desk. (You have time for a ten-minute yoga break, don’t you?)

Basic poses to practice for back pain relief include:

  • Seated side bends
  • Seated twists
  • Cat/cow
  • Child’s pose
  • Cobra
  • Downward dog
  • Legs up the wall

To strengthen muscles that support the back, try these poses (but not if doing them causes pain!):

  • Bow
  • Bridge
  • Upward dog
  • Sphinx
  • Locust

Should you practice yoga when your back hurts?

Ideally, yoga will prevent back pain, so your back will never hurt! Of course, that’s usually not reality. Most of us have back pain now and then. If your back hurts but you still want to practice, be sure to do so with a knowledgeable teacher who can guide you! It’s a good idea to check with your doctor as well.

Yoga teacher Kristen McGee warns that some poses can make back pain worse, so be careful if you’re practicing with any kind of pain. She suggests avoiding poses like camel, boat pose, full wheel, lunge twists, forward bends, and shoulder stand if you have back pain.

The best advice when it comes to yoga to manage back pain is listen to your body. If you’re not confident you’re in tune with your body, the next best advice is listen to your yoga teacher. And always ask your doctor if it’s safe to do your practice!

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Maria Kuzmiak

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