Yoga For Low Back Pain

Back pain is an unfortunately common problem. It is estimated that 80% of us will experience significant low back pain at some time in our lives. The US spends $90 billion per year in treating low back pain, and low back pain is the second leading cause for lost days at work.

For low back pain being such a significant health problem, there are surprisingly limited ways of treating it. There are many people who don’t get better, but who are not considered to be in a state severe enough to justify surgery, or other invasive treatments, and they have to suffer or take pain medication. There are many causes of low back pain – injury, poor physical fitness, carrying extra weight and excessive strain on the back through work and other activities, along with genetics all play a role.

Yoga has immense potential benefits in people suffering with back pain. It can improve physical fitness, and strengthen back and core muscles, in such a way that does not excessively strain the back further. Most people with chronic back pain simply cannot go to the gym and start working out to get fit as the pain is too severe. Yoga, especially under the guidance of a yoga therapist can work on this fitness level in a more gentle and controlled way, without irritating existing problems.

Yoga strengthens muscles by holding them in certain positions, rather than by applying weight to them. Sports scientists call this isometric contraction. Yoga also stretches muscles which helps reduce muscle tension which is also an important part of strengthening and healing. So this cycle of contraction and relaxation is both healing and strengthening for the muscles. Yoga also improves blood flow to tissues, which again can help amplify natural healing of injured tissues.

Yoga also has additional health benefits for people working on weight loss, psychological stress and other ailments, all of which can impact back pain. Yoga can improve posture and balance which are also helpful for the back. As always it is wise to check with your physician before starting any exercise program to ensure that it is safe for you, however the wide reaching benefits of yoga make it an excellent choice for many people.

These effects are so powerful that mainstream medicine has begun to recognize the benefits that yoga can bring for low back pain. Recent studies have begun looking at this in a scientific way and early data has shown that yoga, specifically Viniyoga, can be at least as effective as regular physical therapy. Combining yoga, therefore, with other treatment modalities for low back pain is likely to yield even greater results.

5 Koshas has an array of classes led by trained yoga therapists that can specifically address low back pain issues. So, if you are a long time back pain sufferer – give yoga a try.

Andrew Beaumont, M.D., Ph.D., is a neurosurgeon specializing in diseases of the spine, with a research background in Physiology. He has a deep interest in Yoga, Ayurveda and other traditional medicine systems. He holds a certification diploma as a 500 hour Viniyoga Teacher from the American Viniyoga Institute. He is currently studying Yoga Therapy with the American Viniyoga Institute. He teaches special programs at 5 Koshas Yoga & Wellness in Wausau, WI and is faculty with the River Flow Yoga Teacher Training School.