Herniated disks, pinched nerves, strained muscles, poor posture — lower back pain can stem from many places.
In fact, roughly 80 percent of adults will experience back aches at some point in their lives and roughly one-third of adults have complained of lower back pain in the past three months. Considering back pain is also the leading cause of disability, it’s no wonder we’re constantly searching for relief for our spine.
Go With the Flow to Help Ease Lower Back Pain
One remedy that might soothe a cranky back? Yoga. A study in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that a 12-week yoga program led to greater improvements in function in adults with chronic or recurrent low back pain, compared to usual care. Another study found that yoga helped reduce pain and anxiety associated with low back pain.
“Yoga can help address some of the structural and muscular imbalances that may lead to low back pain,” says Amy Quinn Suplina, yoga teacher and owner of Bend & Bloom Yoga in Brooklyn, NY. Yoga can help you lengthen short and tight muscles and build strength to help stabilize your pelvis and spine. Not to mention perfecting your flow can also improve your posture.
Keep in mind not all forms of yoga are appropriate for those with low back pain, warns Quinn Suplina. Many yoga classes tend to focus on forward folds, which may exacerbate discomfort.
Her advice? Skip the open vinyasa class, especially if you have acute pain, or opt for a few one-on-one sessions with a teacher who has a strong therapeutic background. Or, (with your doc’s OK) try these eight yoga poses, recommended by Quinn Suplina, at home.
1. Reclining Hand-to-Big-Toe Pose (Supta Padangusthasana)
How to: Lie on your back with your knees bent and soles of the feet on the ground. Hold a strap with both hands and place it around the ball of your right foot. Extend your right leg into the air directly over your hip. Press your foot into the strap and keep your left foot firm on the ground. Hold for six to eight full breaths. Gently release and switch sides. If you don’t have a strap, you can use a belt or long scarf.
Instructor insight: When the back of your legs are tight, it can lead to lower back pain, says Quinn Suplina. “Tight hamstrings can pull your pelvis into a posterior tilt and flatten your lumbar curve,” she says. “Then you don’t have the architecture in your spine to distribute weight evenly through the body.” Maintain a neutral pelvis and lumbar curve in this pose. In other words, don’t flatten your lower back against the floor.
2. Gentle Spinal Twist (Supta Matsyendrasana)
How to: From reclining hand-to-big-toe pose, bring your knees into your chest. Extend your left leg out on the ground and draw your right knee across your body, letting your knee rest on top of a block (or book). Bring your arms out to the sides in a T. Allow gravity to draw your right shoulder towards the ground. Hold for six to eight full breathes. Then switch sides.
Instructor insight: Supine spinal twists help increase mobility in the spine, especially between the vertebrae, says Quinn Suplina. This is a gentler twist, compared to the version with both knees stacked, making it good for those with lower back pain.
3. Hip Flexor Stretch
How to: Lie on your back and lift your hips up. Slip a block under your sacrum (the flat, bony part of your lower back) on its lowest or medium height. Draw your right knee in towards your chest and extend your left leg, placing your heel on the mat. Flex your left foot, toes pointing up towards the ceiling. Let the lower back rest into the block and draw your tailbone down towards the block. Hold for six to eight full breathes. Then switch sides.
Instructor insight: Our love for running, biking and exercising may be good for our health, but it can cause our psoas (aka hip flexors) to shorten. Sitting for longer periods of time doesn’t help either. “Shortened hip flexors can pull the pelvis into an anterior tilt, which can compress the lumbar vertebrae,” says Quinn Suplina. If your hips need some extra love, this pose will do the trick.
4. Cat and Cow Pose
How to: Begin in a tabletop position. Engage your core by pulling your belly button up towards your spine. Starting at your tailbone, slowly move into cat pose by letting your tailbone roll underneath you and rounding your upper back toward the ceiling. Move sequentially from lower to mid to upper spine. Lastly, let your gaze and head release toward the ground. Then, starting with your tailbone again, gently roll your tailbone up and slowly move into cow pose. Allow your belly to sink and chest to open toward the front of the room. Your head and gaze are the last to lift towards the ceiling. Move through a few rounds of this version of cat-cow. Then, begin the movement from your skull, letting the movement ripple through your upper spine to your tailbone.
Instructor insight: “When you have acute pain in your lower back, your spine wants to move in a big block instead of segment by segment,” says Quinn Suplina. “This version of cat-cow assists with creating mobility in each segment of the spine.”
How to: Begin in a tabletop position and find a neutral pelvis. Extend your right arm forward. Straighten and lift your left leg behind you to hip height. Engage the abdominal muscles, pulling your belly button up toward your spine. Reach out from your right hand all the way back through the left heel. Hold for three to five full breaths. Then switch sides.
Instructor insight: According to Quinn Suplina, this pose is a great way to build spinal stability. “It helps to bring tone and support to the deeper layers of the spinal muscles,” she says. “You’re building responsive abdominal muscles, not just a six-pack.”
6. Child’s Pose (Balasana)
How to: From a tabletop position, bring with your knees wide and your big toes to touch. Press your hips back towards your heels and bring your belly to your thighs. Stretch your arms long in front of you on the mat. Let your forehead rest on the mat.
Instructor insight: Actively press your palms into the mat and reach away from you to help sink your hips down further. This will help stretch your back, providing gentle traction for your spine.
7. Cobra (Bhujangasana)
How to: From child’s pose, extend long and lower to the ground so you’re lying on your belly. Bring your hands by your lower ribs. Press your palms and tops of the feet into the mat as you hug your elbows in towards your back. You should feel your shoulder blades come towards each other on your back. Gently lift your chest forward and slightly up. If you feel stable here, lift your hands off the ground.
Instructor insight: Quinn Suplina says this baby cobra pose is great for strengthening the lower back, especially the muscles used for respiration that integrate into the lumbar spine. Extending the spine in this pose also lengthens the ab muscles. If you feel acute back pain while doing this, skip it!
8. Side Bending Mountain Pose
How to: Stand with your feet together. Interlace your fingers and flip the palms to face forward. Lift your arms up and press your palms toward the ceiling. Gently side bend to the right while you stay rooted in your left foot and hip. Hold for six to eight breaths. Then switch sides.
Instructor insight: One cause of lower back pain could be your quadratus lumborum muscle aka your QL, says Quinn Suplina. It’s a deep abdominal muscle that’s located on either side of your spine. One side can be tighter or shorter than the other and this pose helps to stretch it out.