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.
One of the most important concepts in Yoga is to continuously stretch your spine and be mindful of your whole body alignment. This article shows 5 Yoga poses Dos & Don’ts.
As you’ll see there, 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.
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.
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:
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.