Eighty percent of Americans experience low back pain at some point in their adult lives. According to a study in the journal Spine (Sept. 1, 2009), yoga therapy can reduce pain and improve function in people with chronic low back pain. Chronic low back pain is defined as pain that lasts more than three months and is often difficult to treat.

Yoga helps manage low back pain by strengthening and lengthening the muscles of the lower back, reducing inflammation and increasing circulation. A regular yoga practice also improves posture and body mechanics which can help relieve pain and prevent injury.

Here are a few different types of back pain, many of which can be helped with yoga therapy, somatic movement, and gentle yoga practices.

Acute Strain
An acute strain is often caused by trauma, injury, overstressing or overstretching the muscles. Strains typically give rise to mild to moderate pain, muscle spasms, decreased muscle strength, and reduced range of motion.

Chronic Strain
Overuse, prolonged repetitive movement, and stress are some of the many causes of chronic back pain. A yoga practice that includes spine lengthening, back bending,restorative postures, and rotation can often help heal a strained or stressed back.

Herniated Disc
A herniated disc happens when the nuclear pulposus, the inner material of the disc, pushes through a tear in the disc’s membrane, and compresses the nerve exiting the spinal cord. Clients with a herniated disc might experience pain in their back or leg, stiffness, weakness, numbness and/or a shooting sensation down the leg.

Sciatica occurs when the sciatic nerve becomes compressed. Inflammation and stenosis (narrowing of the spinal canal) are other common causes of sciatica. Compression of the sciatic nerve can cause one sided numbness, tingling or pain in the sacrum, buttock and back of the leg.

Piriformis Syndrome
Often thought to be sciatica, piriformis syndrome presents many of the same symptoms as sciatica. However, the cause of the pain is not typically related to a herniated disc or stenosis. Instead, it is attributed to tight piriformis muscles (deep muscles in the buttocks) that are pressing on the sciatic nerve.

When one vertebra slips over a lower vertebra due to a fracture or congenital defect it is called Spondylolisthesis. This condition may lead to spinal cord or nerve root compression, back pain, and numbness or weakness in the legs.

Bone and Joint Diseases
Osteoporosis, ankylosing, osteoarthritis are all considered bone and joint diseases and can cause degeneration, bone fractures, stenosis, inflammation and spinal nerve compression.

Here are some general guidelines for using yoga as a tool to support pain relief.

If you are experiencing acute pain, stay away from yoga (or any movement modalities) for at least 48 hours or until the pain has subsided. When practicing yoga if there is any pain, numbness,or tingling, stop immediately.

Be sure to move into your poses slowly, mindfully and with the breath. Stay in your postures for 30-60 seconds or longer and practice slow, deep breathing while holding. Be sure to end your practice with rest. Place a folded/rolled blanket/towel or bolster under your knees to support your back.

If you’d like more support for managing back pain, consider joining my friend Lisa Gulotta and me for our Muscles, Bones & Breath: Loving Your Low Back workshop on January 24th from 2-4pm MT.

The workshop is offered by donation and via Zoom. You can register at HERE

Note: If you have acute pain or are currently being seen by a healthcare provider for a back condition, please check with your provider first before attending the workshop.