Lower back pain associated with yoga practice is one of the most common complaints my patients at triyoga come to me with – sometimes it’s pain during particular asanas, sometimes it’s pain that follows daily practice, or it may just be a feeling of lack of strength in the lower back. More severe lower back injuries can result in pain that radiates into the buttock or the leg. If any of these sound familiar, the best thing really is to consult a healthcare professional to get your pain diagnosed so that you know what you’re dealing with, how to manage it and remove the fear of making something worse. Osteopathy is a whole body approach to assessing and treating musculoskeletal pain such as lower back pain and for more information on how to book an appointment please see below.
For those of you looking to prevent pain in the lower back during practice, I’m going to take you through some pointers on common issues I see with my patients practicing yoga, that build up over time and contribute to their lower back pain:
The most common issue with forward bends is rounding of the lower back during practice to compensate for tight hamstrings or reduced hip mobility. The problem with rounding the lower back in practice is that there are so many variations of forward bends in yoga, that if this has crept in to your practice, it’s being repeated several times in each session and if you practice regularly, that stacks up pretty quickly! The rounded lower back puts a lot of strain on the intervertebral discs that are located between each vertebra and when working well, help the lower back to distribute load. How do we take the stress off of the discs? Make sure in standing forward bends that you keep a neutral lower back as you bend down and really hinge at the hips, rather than rounding segment by segment through the lower back – can’t reach the floor anymore? That’s OK, you just need to put a slight bend in your knees and work towards straightening the legs back out over time – protects the lower back and means you get a better hamstring stretch out of the pose – win win!
How about seated forward bends? To start with, if you can’t sit at all with your legs out in front of you without rounding the lower back, then you NEED some blocks underneath your bottom. If you just ignore this and try to stretch forward, all you are doing is yanking through the lower back and not effectively getting length in the hamstrings or hips. Place some blocks under your seat and ensure you are sitting properly on your sit bones i.e. not tucking the tailbone under. Still struggling to straighten the legs without yanking through the lower back? Keep a slight bend in the knees and work on straightening them over time before you start bending forwards from the hips.
Theres two very common issues linked with back bends that I see and they often co-exist. One is going too deeply into back bends with little abdominal control and the other is hinging through one part of the lower back rather than having a smooth curve where the load is equally distributed.
To help correct the first issue, you need to make sure in back bends that you are strongly tucking the tailbone under and bringing the pubic bone towards the naval (the opposite desired pelvic position to forward bends!) – as before, if you struggle to get deeply into the back bend with this abdominal control, then that’s OK, you will over time gradually get deeper again but in a much safer way. If you’re very flexible, it’s incredibly easy to drop into postures like camel pose without thinking about switching on your core, but yoga is not about racing to the finish line or the final posture, it’s about the journey that takes you there, so take it slow and make sure you enter the postures first and foremost safely.
If you hinge through one part of the lower back, it may be that this segment is hypermobile relative to the other segments of the lumbar spine – this usually requires some hands on intervention to help mobilise through areas of restriction and I’d recommend seeing an Osteopath. You may also benefit from working on getting some more extension through the mid-upper back, to take the load off of the lumbar spine. Foam rolling the upper back, stretching the pecs and yoga postures to help open the chest will all be beneficial here.
Some of these tweaks will make your yoga feel quite different, so enjoy experimenting with these tips and practice safely!
Rebecca Root is a qualified osteopath and sports massage therapist. She obtained her first class honours degree in Osteopathy from Oxford Brookes University and is registered with the General Osteopathic Council and the Institute of Osteopathy. As a fitness and yoga enthusiast, Rebecca enjoys working with those new to yoga, as well as experienced yoga students to help them overcome obstacles in asanas and return to a pain-free practice.
Rebecca is available for osteopathy and sports massage at Triyoga Chelsea on Tuesday afternoons 12.30-16.30 and Friday mornings 08.00-12.00 – click to book your appointment online.