Is Yoga Beneficial for Back Pain?

By Christina Cherg, PT DPT | Therapydia Saratoga

 

Yoga is a practice that has been around for centuries. While there is an abundance of physical, mental, and spiritual benefit associated with the practice of yoga, there is no conclusive evidence that yoga in and of itself is good for addressing low back pain. A systematic review done in 2017 indicates that yoga, in comparison to non-exercise, may have a small positive effect in regard to addressing low back pain.1 Another study, a randomized control trial performed in 2017, concludes that guided yoga is neither superior to or inferior to physical therapy in addressing non specific low back pain.2 In summary, according to these two studies, there is no conclusive evidence to suggest whether or not yoga is effective in addressing low back pain, and that an individualized yoga program is not inferior to physical therapy for low back pain. 

Physical therapists screen individuals with low back pain to determine specific movement restrictions that may be contributing to pain and functional limitations. Then a customized plan of care and home exercise program is developed to meet each individual’s specific presentation. While individuals with back pain often present with common patterns of restricted movements, there are always variations per person. Below is a list of general exercises similar to yoga moves that may help decrease low back pain. These moves are intended to address common structural deficits that may be contributing to back pain – such as excessive lumbar extension, tight hip flexors, and poor abdominal strength. Please keep in mind that this list is very generalized, and that if you are experiencing back pain, the best course of action is to seek medical attention from a qualified professional, such as a physical therapist, to guide you through recovery. 

If any of these exercises aggravate your pain, discontinue the exercises and seek medical attention. 

Move 1: Laying Supine with Knees Bent 

  • Lay on your back with knees bent, feet flat on the floor
  • Imagining blowing up a balloon, exhale food 6-8 counts through your mouth. You should feel your abdominals contract during your exhale
  • Keeping your abdominals engaged, inhale for 2 counts
  • Perform 4 of these breaths 
  • Repeat 4 rounds for a total of 16 breaths

Modifications: Feet Elevated and supported on chair/bed with 90 degree Bend at knees and 90 degree bend at hips

Move 2: Double Knees to Chest

  • Lay on your back with knees bent, feet flat on the floor
  • Draw both knees, one knee at a time, up towards your chest and them there
  • Hold this position for 30 seconds
  • Repeat 3 times 

Modifications: Incorporate breathing technique in Move 1

Move 3: Child’s pose

  • On a yoga mat, or carpeted surface, begin this exercise on your hands and knees, back neutral (relatively straight)
  • Keeping arms straight and hands in line with the shoulders, slowly bring your bottom towards your heels. 
  • Hold this position for 30 seconds
  • Repeat 3 times

Move 4: Mini Cat/Camel

  • On a yoga mat, or carpeted surface, begin this exercise on your hands and knees, back neutral.
  • Keeping arms straight and hands in line with the shoulders, exhale for 6-8 counts as you contract your abdominals, tuck your tailbone, and push your upper back towards the sky. 
  • Inhale for 2 counts as you come back to neutral
  • Repeat 5-8 times

Move 5: Kneeling Hip Flexor Stretch

  • On a yoga mat, or carpeted surface, begin this exercise kneeling on your knees, shins and tops of feet contacting the floor
  • Bring your right leg forward and place that foot flat on the ground so that your forward knee makes a 90 degree angle (this position should look almost like a proposal kneel)
  • Place your right forearm on your R leg and lean forward so that your R knee is moving forwards
  • You should feel the stretch in the front of the left hip

Modification: For a deeper stretch, place a pillow or block under the foot that is behind

Move 6: Plank On Knees

  • On a yoga mat, begin this exercise on your hands and knees, back neutral.
  • Keeping hands shoulder width apart, abdominals and glutes engaged, walk your hands forwards until your shoulders, hips, and knees are making a shallow C curve (with the hollow side towards the floor)
  • Hold this position for 30 seconds
  • Repeat 3-5 times

Modification: Plank on elbows

Again, if these moves aggravate your pain, please discontinue these exercises and seek medical attention. 

Please keep in mind that this list is very generalized, and that if you are experiencing back pain, the best course of action is to seek medical attention from a qualified professional, such as a physical therapist. Physical therapists, like those at Therapydia, work with individuals to develop customized plans of care and specific exercise programs in order to provide the most effective guide to recovery so that patients can get back to moving they way they want. 

 


References:

  1. Wieland LS, Skoetz N, Pilkington K, Vempati R, D’Adamo CR, Berman BM. Yoga treatment for chronic non-specific low back pain. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2017;1(1):CD010671. Published 2017 Jan 12. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD010671.pub2
  2. Saper RB, Lemaster C, Delitto A, et al. Yoga, Physical Therapy, or Education for Chronic Low Back Pain: A Randomized Noninferiority Trial. Ann Intern Med. 2017;167(2):85‐94. doi:10.7326/M16-2579

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