Photo credit: Graham Mattock
One of the reasons yoga is so effective at reducing lower back pain is because it works on a number of different levels, three of which I’ll cover in this article:
- Mobility: loosening up joint restrictions.
- Flexibility: releasing tension in overactive muscles.
- Strength: re-activating weakened structures.
What causes lower back pain?
Lower back pain is a complicated issue with many possible causes but there are some biomechanical factors that are common to the majority of cases:
- Tight hip flexors.
- Weak core and glutes.
- Tight hamstrings, lower back and quadratus lumborum.
- Pelvic misalignment.
Your body adapts to the lifestyle choices that you make every day, some of which throw your posture out of alignment putting stress on your body in ways it is not equipped to deal with. The lower back bears much of the brunt of this as the bridge between your upper and lower body.
How do we get out of balance?
- Short, tight hip flexors. If you sit more than you stand and move about, your hip flexors, which are the muscles that draw your legs and upper body together, are in a persistently contracted state. Over time, they tighten up within this restricted range of motion and pull the pelvis out of alignment.
- Weak core and glutes. Too much sitting and not enough pushing, pulling and lifting heavy objects leaves us with insufficient core strength and ‘sleepy’ glutes (buttock muscles).
- Tight lower back, hamstrings and QL. When the core and glutes are not firing, the lower back muscles, hamstrings and QL (a deep lower back muscle) are forced to compensate in stabilising the spine and hips and tighten up as a result.
- Misaligned pelvis. This results from all of the above. Muscular imbalances, caused by the overdevelopment of some muscles and the lack of development in others, pull the pelvis out of alignment and tug at the lower back.
When you ask your body to perform dynamic movements at high speed and/or generate a significant amount of power for your sport, you put these vulnerable structures at high risk of injury.
How can yoga help?
Once we understand the common set of muscular imbalances that your sport and daily habits have established, you can use yoga to start to redress the balance. Yoga is the ultimate balancer. Work out too hard and yoga can be your recovery tool. Your sport makes you physically stronger in some areas than other, yoga helps you to be aware of this imbalance and gives you a method to restore the equilibrium. You feel frayed from over-committing in certain areas of your life, yoga gives you the space to regain your inner sense of calm and focus.
This sequence is designed to loosen up restrictions in the hips, strengthen the core and glutes, release the hamstrings, stretch the QL and obliques, decompress the spine, realign the pelvis and relax your body and mind.
You can practice it every day or as often as you need to.
If you have a back injury, please get the all clear from your physical therapist before you perform any of the exercises. They are not a replacement for medically supervised rehabilitation.
STEP 1: MOBILISE
Here are 3 exercises to loosen up your hips and spine. Spend as much time as you need to on each of them, wriggling into tight spots and exploring specific problem areas in your body. The aim is to gradually restore range of motion at the hips.
STEP 2: ACTIVATE
Hold each of these three poses for at least 1 minute. Engage your body fully, breathing at a measured pace, in and out through your nose. Your aim is to strengthen the muscles that support your spine, hips and shoulders.
STEP 3: RELEASE
Hold each of the poses in this sequence for at least 3 minutes. Deepen your breath and let go of all tension.
As I mentioned above, you can practice this routine every day or as often as you need to.
I have put together a 5-video mini video series designed to relieve lower back pain that targets all these areas. It includes the following sequences:
- 15-Minute Core Strengtheners
- 15-Minute Hip Openers
- 15-Minute Hamstring + Calf Flexibility
- 15-Minute Twists For Spinal Mobility
- 15-Minute Stretch + Release
You can download the series on Vimeo here: Yoga For Back Pain Relief
Please let me know if you have any questions in the Comments section below or if there are other poses you have found to be effective that you can share with us.