If you have chronic back pain, yoga strengthens abdominal and lumbar muscles to help alleviate discomfort. We’ve put together a yoga for back pain series you can do right at home every day to make you stronger and more comfortable. DISCLAIMER: we hope it goes without saying (but we’re saying it anyway), but please consult a doctor or a licensed health practitioner to confirm that you do not have a muscular or spinal injury in the area before performing any of these exercises.
Three Common Types of Back Pain
Here, in our appraisal, are the three most common types of back pain. While this is not meant as a diagnosis, we hope this serves as a guideline for the type of pain you may be experiencing. The yoga for back pain sequence we’ve outlined addresses these types of issues.
1. Sciatica: a compression of the sciatic nerve. This is almost always accompanied by a tingling sensation that travels down the back of your leg.
2. Sacroiliac nerve pain: a compression or misalignment of the pelvis may be pulling on the nerve along sacroiliac joint. This pain often radiates (meaning where you feel it) in your lower back and in your gluteal (yes, we mean butt) muscles towards the outer hips. This is often caused by compression in the psoas muscle (more commonly referred to as your hip flexor).
3. Scapular pain: a tightness along the inside of the scapula (shoulder blade). This scapular pain could radiate up into your shoulders, neck, and even down into your arm or wrist.
Best Yoga Poses for Back Pain Relief
Please note that the sequence below warms up the body gradually, focusing on improving circulation prior to stretching, so please try and follow the order as recommended. Practice in a dry, comfortable space with plenty of padding on the knees. Layer up when you’re doing the warm up exercises if it’s chilly.
1. Cat/Cow Pose
Come to your hands and knees on the floor. Inhale and let your midriff and belly completely collapse. When you exhale, completely empty the stomach of air as you pull your navel up and in and curve the spine upwards towards the ceiling. Inhale, repeat. Do this sequence at least 10-12 times.
2. Arms and Legs Extensions
Remain on your hands and knees. Extend your right arm in front of you, palm facing in and the left leg behind you (opposite arm and leg). Pull the belly in, be careful not to let the shoulder wander away from the ear and press out through the fingers and the heel. You want to feel a full extension. Hold for 6-9 breaths, release, and complete the other side. Do complete sequence 3-6 times (the more, the merrier).
3. Chair Pose Variation
Stand with the feet hip’s distance apart. Bring your arms straight overhead. Bend the knees and lower the chest in between your legs, keeping the torso and upper thighs parallel with the floor. Hold for at least 6 to 9 even breaths. Release. Repeat two more times.
4. Dolphin Plank
Plank pose is a must for all back pain sufferers. It is one of the most efficient ways to strengthen your thighs, hamstrings, abdominals, back and shoulder girdle muscles. If there’s one to squeeze in every day, it’s this one.
Come to your hands and knees. Pull the belly up towards the spine and tuck the hips under (to take out the natural curve and activate the abs). Place your forearms on the floor shoulder’s width apart. Place your palms firmly down into the floor. Step your right and left leg back so you’re on the balls of your feet. Be careful not to let your hips float up. You want your back to be as straight as possible. If the upper back muscles are tight, practice isometrics (muscle opposition) and try to “drag” your forearms together. They won’t move, but you will activate the upper back muscles. Shaking is expected and totally normal. Hold for at least 10 breaths.
5. Standing Splits Variation
Stand, feet hip’s distance apart. Bend all the way forward, using a yoga block or a stack of books to support you if your hands don’t touch the floor. Bend your knees slightly to engage the quadriceps (upper thigh muscles). Bring your right leg directly behind you, keeping your hips square. Keep the leg straight and extend it to the right, pushing out through the heel. Hold for at least 30 seconds and then switch sides. Repeat twice.
This is an extremely challenging pose (perhaps the most challenging in this series), so do your best. It is extremely beneficial for sacroiliac nerve pain because it lengthens the hamstrings and strengthens the gluteal muscles.
6. Navasana (Boat ) Pose
Sit with your knees bent and your feet on the ground in front of you. Lean back, keeping your back straight, fingertips facing your seat with your hands in a “tent”-like configuration to hold you steady and keep the elbows bent. Squeeze the elbows in towards each other. The idea is that you’re giving yourself a tiny stretch across the shoulders and upper back while engaging the upper back muscles. Lean back slightly and lift both feet off the floor, keeping the feet flexed.
BONUS MOVE ONE: Keep the thighs parallel to the floor with your arms out in front of you, palms facing each other
BONUS MOVE TWO: Straighten the legs, pressing out through the heels of your flexed feet
Remember falling over is fine. If you have sciatica or sciatic nerve pain, this pose should be a regular part of daily life. Don’t worry about how “far” you get in this pose. If all you can do is lift your legs with your arms behind you, so be it. After time, though, you will improve circulation in your cramped and stuff muscles and strengthen the entire abdominal wall.
7. Runner’s Lunge
The worse your back pain, the harder this pose will be initially. This pose stretches parts of the lower psoaz muscle (aka your hip flexor). A tight psoaz will often cause back pain, so do this gently and do it often, especially if you have chronic sciatica and sacroiliac irritation. As always, only go as far as your body lets you.
Start with both knees on the floor. Bring your right leg forward, knee bent. Scoot the back knee back 2-3 inches. Place your hands on your right thigh, lengthening the torso and leaning forward slightly. Breathe. Hold for at least 30 seconds.
BONUS MOVE ONE: Bring your fingertips to the floor and straighten the back leg
BONUS MOVE TWO: Bring both arms towards the ceiling
Switch sides. Repeat 2-3 times
8. Downward Facing Dog
Finish up here. Start on your hands and knees. Pull your tummy in, keep your knees under your hips and your hands directly under your shoulders. Curl the toes under and straighten the legs. Keep the knees bent if your heels don’t make it to the floor. Keep your fingers spread nice and wide. Let your neck relax. Hold for 30 seconds. Rest and repeat one more time.