Yoga can be very effective at relieving back pain and improving spinal flexibility when it’s done with the correct approach. Let’s explore some of the reasons why it’s so effective, and also a few points of caution. Then I’ll cover some of the best yoga poses for back pain.
Yoga has become one of the world’s most popular forms of exercise largely due to the many health benefits it provides. Those who practice yoga regularly enjoy stronger muscles, improved cardiovascular health, better mobility, and a wide range of other benefits.
- Why yoga poses for back pain can be so effective
- Is yoga always effective at reducing back pain?
- Best yoga poses for back pain
- Further reading beyond these yoga poses for back pain
Why yoga poses for back pain can be so effective
Yoga improves joint flexibility
Several studies have confirmed that regular yoga practice can improve joint health. It does so by increasing joint lubrication and blood flow, which leads to better joint flexibility, mobility, and range of motion. As the health of the joints in the back improves, the amount of back pain experienced often decreases.
One of the studies, published in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine in 2011, showed that participants who took part in a 12-week yoga program had lower back pain and better back function compared to those that did not. Therefore, yoga for lower back pain can be considered as part of a holistic plan to reduce the incidence and severity of lower back pain.
Yoga changes how the brain perceives pain
Researchers have discovered that mind-body practices like yoga and meditation can affect how a person perceives pain by improving the health of the brain.
In simple terms, yoga protects the brain from the natural age-related decline in grey matter volume. It can also improve neuroplasticity, which is how well the brain can form new internal connections and reorganize itself.
These changes increase the size and connectivity of the insular cortex, which affects a person’s pain tolerance and pain threshold levels. In other words, those who practice yoga regularly experience less chronic pain compared to other people.
Yoga reduces inflammation
Inflammation often goes hand-in-hand with chronic back pain. There are several conditions where inflammation causes pain including osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and spondylitis. Back injuries also tend to be more painful when significant inflammation is present.
Yoga may be able to help by lowering inflammation levels throughout the body. A 2015 study involving 218 participants found that individuals who practiced yoga had lower levels of inflammatory markers than those who did not. This is another reason that yoga poses for back pain can be really effective.
Yoga increases awareness of your body
Yoga is a mindful practice that can help you gain more awareness of your body, allowing you to identify specific areas of tension or pain. It can also be used to improve your body’s alignment and posture, which may help you resolve the root cause of your back pain.
Is yoga always effective at reducing back pain?
The short answer is no. As someone who has experienced chronic lower back pain, I can say from personal experience, that it is not always effective. Back pain can be a complex issue, and everyone has their own unique complexities.
There have been many times when I have walked away from yoga classes feeling great, but then later in the day or the next day, my back pain has ended up worse. This is despite the fact that I “listened to my body” and modified when necessary during the class.
It’s important to be aware that yoga classes are not personalized. Neither are the exercises below. So it’s true that you do need to listen to your body when you are trying these yoga poses for back pain. The postures should feel good, and not painful when you’re doing them. As well, take note of how your back feels later in the day, and also the next day, and then ease back or modify next time, if necessary.
I have never attended an in-person yoga class that was created specifically to relieve pain. Although the instructor might say the poses will be fine for back pain, I now know there are certain poses that aggravate me personally, and I would now avoid them in a class situation (for example, the reverse triangle pose!).
Best yoga poses for back pain
Contrary to a standard yoga class, the postures in this post HAVE been designed with back pain in mind. They’re more “yin” rather than “yang” style, so they are gentle, and restorative in nature. Yoga should be a safe, low-impact form of exercise. However, if it’s been a while since you’ve exercised or you have health concerns or injuries, it’s always a good idea to talk to your doctor before starting any new exercise routine.
Below are five yoga poses for back pain for beginners. They can be performed on their own or as a part of a longer series of poses.
When doing yoga with lower back pain, remember to take it slow and ease into each position. Breathe freely and never hold your breath. If you experience any pain in your back, stop immediately.
1. Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana)
Downward Facing Dog is yoga’s most widely recognizable pose. It is a restorative pose that can relieve muscular tension in the lower back and reduce back pain. It can also strengthen and balance the back muscles, and offer a nice release for the upper body. This makes it a great overall choice when it comes to yoga poses for back pain.
How to perform a Downward Facing Dog
- Start with your hands and knees on the floor
- Ensure your knees are beneath your hips, with hands slightly in front of your shoulders. Place your palms flat on the ground with fingers spread out.
- As you exhale, lift your knees from the floor and raise your pelvis towards the ceiling. Begin to straighten your legs, but keep a slight bend in the knees. Keep your arms straight as you do so. Lift your sit bones towards the ceiling. Lengthen your spine and tailbone. Start with your heels off the ground (as you become more flexible, you can press them onto the ground).
- You can hold this position for up to a minute as you breathe. During this time, focus on distributing your weight evenly between both sides of the body. Keep your chin tucked in slightly.
View the video below for a more in-depth explanation of Downward Facing Dog.
2. Sphinx Pose (Salamba Bhujangasana)
This is a very gentle backbend, which makes it a great starting point for anyone experiencing back pain. It strengthens the spine, relieves stress, and releases tension in the back muscles. It can be one of the more effective yoga poses for lower back pain since it stretches through the muscles down the front of the body, which may be causing tightness in the lower back.
How to perform Sphinx Pose
- Start by laying on your belly, with your legs side by side. Point your toes at the wall behind you and rotate your thighs inwardly (which helps to lengthen your lower back and sacrum)
- Place your elbows under your shoulders, with your forearms parallel to one another on the floor. As you inhale, lift your upper torso and head from the floor so your back bends.
- Focus your attention on your lower belly, lightly drawing it away from the floor and towards your lower back. This movement supports the even curvature of your backbend and helps the bend spread up the back.
- Stay in this position for between 5 to 10 breaths, then lower your head and torso to the floor to relax.
View the video for a more in-depth explanation of Sphinx Pose.
3. Locust Pose (Salabhasana)
This is a more challenging pose that can dramatically strengthen the back muscles, triceps, and gluteus maximus. It is a great option to add to your routine of yoga poses for back pain because it can be very effective at reducing both low and mid back pain.
How to perform Locust Pose
- Begin by laying on your stomach with arms next to your torso (palms facing up)
- Point your feet to the wall behind you. Bring your feet together so your big toes are touching and heels are slightly to the side.
- Rest your forehead on the floor
- Very slowly, lift your chest, arms, and head from the mat. Optionally, bring your hands together behind your back.
- If you want to deepen the pose, lift your feet off the ground.
- Look ahead or, if you can manage it, slightly up towards the ceiling.
- Stay in this pose for up to a minute, then rest.
View the video below for a more in-depth explanation of Locust Pose.
4. Half Lord Of The Fishes (Ardha Matsyendrasana)
This pose uses a twisting motion that can relieve muscular tension and backache. It is also useful for stretching the neck, hips, and shoulders. If you’re looking for yoga stretches for lower back pain, this is a great one to try.
How to perform Half Lord of the Fishes
- Sit on the floor with your legs in front of you.
- Bend your knees and place your feet on the floor, then slide the left foot under the right leg, so it is just outside of the hip. Move the right leg over the left and stand it to the left side of your body.
- As you exhale, twist your torso, and place your right hand behind you. At the same time, place the elbow of your left arm outside of the knee of your right leg. Your left arm should be pointed up, so the hand is towards the ceiling.
- Press your elbow against your knee as you turn your torso further. Look over either shoulder.
- Stay in this pose for a minute, then repeat it on the other side.
View the video below for a more in-depth explanation of Half Lord Of The Fishes to relieve lower back pain.
4. Child’s Pose
This gentle pose is very relaxing and the perfect way to end a short yoga session. It is a fantastic pose for stretching the spine, releasing tension, and soothing back muscles.
How to perform Child’s Pose
- Sit on your heels and with knees together
- Slowly bend forward, with the assistance of your hand, and place your forehead on the floor.
- Stretch your arms in front of you or place them alongside your body (palms up)
- Breathe deeply as you focus on releasing any tension in your back and shoulders
- Remain in this restful pose for up to 5 minutes.
View the video below for a more in-depth explanation of Child’s Pose.
Further reading beyond these yoga poses for back pain
I truly hope this yoga sequence for back pain is useful for you. I personally know how debilitating back pain can be so I hope you get some relief with yours!
Aside from the back pain yoga poses I have shared today, you may also be interested in these five yoga poses for tension headaches.
Additionally, I have a post dedicated to the best exercises for lower back pain. They’re simple exercises that use a stretch and strengthen approach for the surrounding muscles, that may be causing your lower back pain.
As always, please reach out if you’d like to, and feel free to join the conversation below. I’d love to hear from you.