The health of our back impacts our well-being in numerous ways. Anyone suffering from back pain has experienced just how debilitating back pain can be. As recurring discomfort turns everyday tasks into painful chores, a person’s mood, energy, and well-being often gets affected as well.
Yoga therapy targeting back pain is showing promise as a new, alternative treatment for back pain. Back problems often originate in the soft tissues, and as a consequence, the most effective back pain treatments are typically non-surgical and non-prescriptive, targeting the soft tissues instead. Yoga offers therapy for back pain, because it helps relieve chronic tension and tightness in the soft tissues, addressing back pain at its root.
A study published in 2005 in the Annals of Internal Medicine showed that people practicing yoga for back pain experienced greater pain relief than people who received a combination of exercise and knowledge of proper back care. Yoga exercises for back pain have also been recommended by the American College of Physicians and the American Pain Society as a way to treat chronic back pain.
Yoga helps people suffering from low back pain, shoulder, or neck pain in four major ways:
1. Yoga tones and strengthens weak muscles. Yoga is particularly effective for toning and strengthening the body’s core muscles, which are critical for creating proper support for the spine and giving the back greater strength and stability. By increasing core stability and improving posture, yoga exercises for back pain decrease the pressure on the spine, a key element in creating lasting back-pain relief.
2. Yoga enhances flexibility. Back problems often arise when chronically tight muscles and soft tissue pull on the spine at unnatural angles. Yoga stretches increase the suppleness and flexibility of the soft tissues, and this in turn releases the strain caused by chronically tight muscles pulling the spine out of its natural alignment. By stretching out and releasing tension naturally, yoga relieves the pressure on the spine, in turn reducing back pain.
3. Yoga increases circulation. Yoga also improves back pain by enhancing oxygenation to body tissues, thereby increasing the flow of nutrients and removal of toxins in the spine itself. Many yoga poses for back pain alternate compression and release of pressure, coupled with an emphasis on deep breathing to systematically flood the body with uniquely oxygen-rich blood. This fresh influx of blood clears out toxins in the body and delivers vital nutrients to all areas, including the soft tissues. This is particularly helpful to people who sit at computers all day, which can lead to a compressed spine and restricted blood flow. Yoga stretches for the back lengthen and decompress the spine, thereby improving circulation to the vertebrae and vertebral discs.
4. Yoga calms mind and body and releases stress. Chronic stress can cause our nervous system to be trapped in “fight or flight” mode, in which the muscles and soft tissues become chronically tense. Chronic tightness, particularly in the back, shoulders, and neck often underlines chronic bank pain, neck tension, or even migraine headaches. Yoga shifts the body out of the “fight or flight” mode into a parasympathetic response, a rejuvenating “rest and digest” state in which the body lets go of tension patterns and naturally begins to heal itself.
Of course, like any holistic mind-body approach to health, yoga offers many therapeutic effects, and these are just a few. When the spine is healthy, vital energy flows unimpeded, and we enjoy optimum well-being. For this reason, a person practicing yoga for back pain will also benefit from yoga’s effects on organ health, mood, emotional balance and general energy and well-being.