As America’s back pain sufferers search for non-opioid solutions to their back pain, more and more we chiropractors are asked questions about yoga as a way to alleviate some of that pain.  Indeed, Yoga provides many health benefits as it improves flexibility and balance and provides a bit of mild cardiovascular exercise.  Some Flow Yoga and Sculpt Yoga in Greenville also provides more substantial cardio and strength training.  Yoga may serve to preserve spinal mobility and prevent falls as a person ages.  However, there are some cautions that chiropractic patients or anyone with low back issues should heed.

While strong lower back muscles are a good thing, people should keep in mind that they “work” the muscles in their low back every day, all day, doing the normal movements of daily living, not to mention work they perform when lifting, pulling, etc.  Typically, it’s the abdominal muscles that are weak and underused, so that’s a betterarea to target when you want to strengthen your core.

Which leads me to the yoga poses most likely to cause or exacerbate back pain, not help it.  These common exercises generally extend the low back…and are likely to irritate discs and other soft tissue surrounding the spine.

  1. Camel – Avoid this one.  If it’s called for in class, concentrate on working your glutes and contracting your abs as you lean back slightly while keeping the back straight.
  2. Superman, Locust, Cobra – There are many variations of these poses that involve lying on one’s stomach and raising arms, legs, or both. Do them very gently, if at all,and concentrate on keeping abdominals taut.  It’s also a good time to just rest.
  3. Wheel – Even if you CAN do wheel, it’s not a good idea for your low back. If you must, press in to it with your shoulders, show everyone you can do it, and then immediately and gently lower back down and hug knees to chest.
  4. Heel to Knee Hamstring stretch – this exercise is very commonly recommended for tight hamstrings which often go hand in hand with tight lower backs. But this particular stretch (when you lie on your back with one heel on the other bent   knee, and then pull the knee toward your chest) puts an uneven strain on your low back and may aggravate injuries.
  5. Upward Facing Dog – This exercise can be accomplished safely if you move into it slowly with your abs and quads engaged, being sure not to just drop the back and belly into an exaggerated lumbar extension. Unfortunately, that is easier said than done when a person becomes tired as class progresses.  As soon as you feel yourself making some sloppy movements, start moving directly in to down dog from plank, rather than moving through Up Dog during Chaturanga.

 

 

 

Remember, it’s more important that your lumbar spine be STABLE than it is to be flexible.  Take it easy on your low back by making some modifications so you can continue to reap the benefits of yoga in the long run.  Or if you want to learn some non-yoga exercises that can safely improve your spinal flexibility, range of motion and core strength, just ask.  I’m happy to provide all my patients at Brown Chiropractic Center with customized exercises.

Jeff W. Brown, D.C., Greenville Chiropractor