You may be wondering if doing yoga is good for your back pain? The answer is Yes and No…
I’ll tell you my take on this question down below, but first let’s look at some research.
There is lots of research supporting the use of Yoga as an exercise program for back pain. This study states that yoga proved to be a great supplement to managing one’s low back pain.
Another study states:
“The main Finding of this study suggests that the practice of yoga can decrease pain and increase functional ability in patients with chronic low back pain. Given these findings, yoga maybe considered an effective treatment for individuals with chronic low back pain that are seeking non-surgical intervention. In addition to stretching and strengthening the muscles of the back and lower extremities through physical postures, yoga may have the additional benefit of reducing stress through meditation and breathing exercises, contributing to an overall reduction in symptoms for individuals with low back pain.”
On the flip side, Yoga can also make things worse. In this study, out of the 87 people who did Yoga, 13 reported mild-moderate adverse effects in the form of increased back pain.
What do we think about Yoga here at Back Intelligence?
I, Leon Turetsky (Founder of Back Intelligence), as well as Dr. Shaina McQuilkie, DC and Dr. Joshua Yerkes, DPT mostly agree that Yoga can be good for back pain, however if done improperly, it can make things worse. Also, depending on your condition you may need to modify/avoid certain poses.
Here are our pros and cons on this:
The Pros of doing Yoga for back pain:
• Helps to restore flexibility and mobility.
• Can help improve your strength and endurance.
• Can improve balance and stability.
• Helps to improve overall posture and body alignment.
• Promotes muscle relaxation and flexibility throughout the body.
• Reduces stress and improves mood.
The Cons of doing Yoga For Back Pain:
• Has the potential to worsen back pain if certain poses are performed, or if poses are performed incorrectly; it’s essential that you find an instructor that can modify poses as necessary for any back issues that you have (i.e. disc herniation, impingement, etc.)
• Has the potential to cause injury with a lifetime prevalence rate of 21.3% with most injuries being to the musculoskeletal system in the form of sprains/strains.
• A lot of poses require flexion of the spine (forward bending) and this could be problematic for people with disc problems.
• Sometimes it’s not specific enough for your back condition/posture dysfunction.
• Physical Therapist Dr. Joshua Yerkes also states that Yoga “Could cause Ligamentous stress and possible tendonitis due to repeated motions”.
The Biggest thing to keep in mind:
In general, I (Leon) do like Yoga and several of the exercises we recommend here on this website are also used in Yoga!
From a back pain perspective though, the biggest con in my opinion is that Yoga alone may not be the best modality if you’re trying to treat a very specific back pain issue, or postural dysfunction.
For example, if you have rounded shoulders then no amount of hamstring stretches and planks is going to help you correct your hunchback.
Or if you suffer from a Sciatica Pain, any forward spine bending may trigger your pain faster than you can say “pain!”.
My recommendation is that if you want to do Yoga, do it carefully and methodically.
Be sure to educate yourself on which yoga poses/exercises are not suited for your specific back condition – So you can avoid them or modify them.
For example, if you know that the cobra pose helps alleviate your low back pain, then by all means do it in your yoga class.
However, for people suffering from spinal stenosis, spine extension exercises (Like Cobra) may make their symptoms worse.
Another really important thing to consider is How are you performing these yoga poses?
For example, if you have to touch your toes with your hands, are you rounding your spine excessively to get that done?
This can cause more back pain…
* Tip – Try to bend down from your hips, while keeping your spine in a neutral position (Avoiding flexion).
The technique you use in your Yoga poses can make the difference between helping your pain versus aggravating it.
For example, doing the Cobra pose while shrugging your shoulders is not ideal. It will actually activate your Upper Trapezius muscle which is already overactive on most people, and can contribute to poor posture and shoulder pain.
Lastly, Do more than just Yoga
In addition, besides doing yoga, I recommend you do posture-specific exercises and stretches that will help you correct your posture and help your specific back issue, like our premium courses.
The Complete Posture Fix (With Dr. Oliver, DC)
Correct your Posture and Ergonomics, Ease Back & Neck pain and Increase your mobility.
If your “core” muscles are particularly weak, doing general Yoga alone may not be enough.
* Tip – You can try to find specific Core yoga classes to address this – But be careful as some of the Yoga teachers can recommend Core/Abdominal exercises that aren’t good for you spine and back – Causing more discomfort and pain.
Related: Are Crunches & Sit Ups Bad for your back?
I love Yoga and I do it myself but I also modify it to suit my needs, and do posture specific exercises in addition.
Yoga can be both good and bad for back pain relief. The important thing is that you need to understand your specific back pain condition/posture dysfunction and then ask yourself if the yoga poses you are doing helping it or making it worse.
Watch Video version of this article:
Lower Back pain from sitting
6 Core Exercises
Posterior Pelvic Tilt Exercises
Are crunches bad for you?
Anterior Pelvic Tilt Exercises
Corrective Exercise Specialist (NASM-CES), Certified Personal Trainer (NASM-CPT), Professional Dancer
As a long time back sufferer Leon found unique methods to alleviate his pain using natural methods including self massage, exercise/stretching and postural habits. He founded Backintelligence.com to empower others to fix their postures and ease their back pain from home.
Ullrich Sieg says
I am 50 now and doing Yoga most of my life, with all the ups and downs. When I was young I grew so fast I have been in constant pain, Yoga helped and it was the only thing that gave me some relive. By the time I was 16 I was 6 foot 9, lucky me I was a cool kid and smoked, sorry I am joking, but it helped me not to grow until 25 like the Doctors predicted. I kept Yoga always close, but I adepted Yoga with my needs. Over time I combined Yoga with some Chi Gong and the Tibetians and not to forged about Thai Chi, and off course other stuff I found along the way. Allways adapted to my needs and injurys I had during my live. I have not smoked in 16 years and my back is is in perfect health. As long my mind does not betray me over night, I wake up every morning a bit stiff, sore and tight but that goes usally after 10 min moving around or during my morning exercises. But sometimes when my mind betrays me it want go, and the only thing that helps then ist to drink, that calmes my mind. And I am not stiff, sore and tight in the morning. Lucky me I am always stiff, sore and tight in the mornig.
So my idea to the subject is you can be fit, healthy and in good shape when your mind is not fit as well the rest does not matter!
At 73, I do Bikram yoga 4-5 times a week. I wish I’d started much younger. At my previous studio, there was a “bootcamp” attitude and teachers would verbally push, push, push. I developed miserable sciatica and a neurologist determined that L4 vertebra was pushing forward. I’m certain this occurred during back bending “back, back, more back!” Phys. Therapy for core strength to push the vertibra back into alignment was very helpful.
Now I go to a more zen Bikram studio. It’s totally supportive In Helping me adapt many poses to best serve my experience. . I enjoy my yoga practice immensely and hope to continue into my 80’s,….. maybe 90’s!
Your online lessons for head forward posture are helping me, too, as recommended by my chiropractor. Thank you!
Leon Turetsky (NASM-CPT, NASM-CES) says
Thanks for sharing. Yes, I don’t agree with the whole idea of “push more, more” especially you don’t want to push into pain. Doing yoga mindfully and only doing poses that serve you is great.