Yoga for Back Pain: It Depends

You are not alone when it comes to experiencing back pain

It has been estimated that 70–90% of people suffer from lower back pain in some form at some point in their lives (Australian Bureau of Statistics 2007–08, National Health Survey). Back problems can start early in life.

Over the past years, there have been findings from well- designed, peer-reviewed studies that support that Yoga is a therapeutic practice that can offer relief for some Back Pain Issues.

One widely cited study from the Annals of Internal Medicine followed three groups of adults (101 people total) with chronic low back pain over a 12-week period, comparing their experiences with yoga, conventional physical therapy or a self-help book. Yoga yielded significantly better results overall, with benefits that included reduced pain and improved back function. Importantly, these benefits lasted at least 14 weeks after the yoga intervention ended.

The Researchers also determined how yoga helps relieve low back pain and outlined the possible reasons such as – Yoga increases muscle strength and flexibility, reduces muscle tension, decreases fear and avoidance of movement and reduces psychological stress.

Interestingly, it was also noted that not all Yoga offered in the broad market is the same and that if one has a particular health challenge such as a back pain that people need to know exactly what type of Yoga is being taught?

So, what type of Yoga is beneficial for healing Back pain?

This question gives rise to the open ended answer – IT Depends.

There is no simple answer to what type of Yoga can support someone with back pain. However, ultimately Yoga Therapy aims to bring about pain-free, healthy functional movement. Here are examples of what we may offer in our work as Yoga therapists.

The Yoga therapist will provide a step-by-step educational process

  • Having relevant knowledge empowers the individuals to take responsibility for their own healing. For example, it is essential when you experience back pain that you understand what constitutes a healthy spine? This may involve understanding basic structural and functional anatomy- such as what are the natural curves of a spine and the structures involved in maintaining spinal health.

Research suggests that exercise is a useful antidote to back pain, however IT depends, in acute pain it may be more appropriate to rest and then relaxation or restorative practices maybe prescribed.

  • There are times when the pain is so acute one can barely move. In acute pain, rest and relaxation practices maybe initially prescribed. There are a number of restorative yoga positions that induce muscle relaxation that can then be intelligently integrated with other practices to further facilitate mental calmness, which is innately healing in times of stress.

If no attention is given to ones misaligned posture in activities of daily living then over time injury or damage may occur

  • Lower back pain is a widely common complaint. It maybe caused by (but not always) sedentary activities of daily living, such as sitting at a desk for extensive periods of time, which then lends itself to a repetitive forward stooped spinal position. If this is the presenting history, combined with back pain then it may-be useful for the Yoga Therapist to facilitate ones awareness to the natural curves of spine, a position where ones spine is most stable and possibly include some spinal mobilising and/or strengthening exercises. To further ensure the therapeutic effectiveness of a personal practice, postural awareness needs to go beyond the yoga mat and mindfully integrated into ones daily activities.

Individuals may experience pain in the lower back, however it is a neighbouring area of the body that requires attention. 

  • When assessing ones spine we need to consider the whole spine, in fact the whole body. An example, of a neighbouring area to the lower back is the thoracic (middle back) area of the spine. The functional range of movement in the thoracic area of the spine is different to the other areas of the spine. On assessment if it appears that one has a misalignment or an exaggeration of the thoracic curve then this may require attention to relieve the low back pain. There are a number of ways a Yoga Therapist would intervene to functionally mobilise this area, this may include breath centred practices integrated with specific postural movements.

Yoga can support and provide therapeutic relief for ones back pain but IT depends on a number of aspects and will very often require individual Yoga Sessions with a Yoga Therapist.


Written by Lisa Grauaug B AppSc (Nursing), B Psych, M Psych, Adv Dip Yoga Teaching, Ayurveda Lifestyle Certificate, Perinatal Mental Health Course (USyd), Registered Psychologist, Registered Yoga Teacher, Registered Yoga Therapist, Yoga Australia Member

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