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Is Yoga Bad For Your Back?

Brent Wells on August 12, 2020

When it comes to back pain, one of the first things many doctors and chiropractors will suggest is for the patient to begin a stretching program, such as yoga.

You may have read, however, that yoga can be bad for your back. Is this true or is this simply an internet rumor?

Does Yoga Really Help Back Pain?

Doctors and chiropractors have been recommending yoga to heal the back, improve core muscles, and strengthen supporting back muscles for years. But...

Could yoga actually be causing you even more back pain?

The answer is - it depends.

There’s pretty strong evidence that yoga will help to strengthen and stretch the muscles of the back, shoulders, and neck muscles that often cause the most discomfort.

When it comes to chronic, localized back pain, yoga also appears to be helpful. Studies show that regular practice strengthens:

  • the multifidus muscles that stabilize the bones in the spine
  • the transverse abdominis muscles in the abdomen that stabilize the back
  • the paraspinal muscles that allow you to bend and move your spine in different directions.

But here’s the caveat. Though proven to be beneficial for the back, yoga can also bring to light the existing back issues.

The main culprits? Overstretching, misalignment, and weak muscles.

If you’re practicing yoga at home, you should invest some time to study the foundations of yoga asanas (e.g. the optimal foot placement and pelvis positioning are essential to prevent the lower back pain in many postures) as well as learn which poses to avoid in the first place.

5 Yoga Poses That Might Make Your Back Pain Worse

Not every yoga pose is a good idea for those who have back problems, much in the same way some yoga poses are not good for pregnant women.

Here are 5 yoga poses you should avoid if you have back pain (especially if you’re practicing without a yoga instructor):

1. Lunge Twist

For those who currently have back pain, any type of twisting movement can become a painful endeavor. While this pose is designed to use the abdominal muscles, many people, especially beginners, tend to twist the back more than they engage the abdominals and this can put a great deal of pressure on the spinal discs.

Lunge Twist Pose

2. Boat

While this seems like a simple pose, many yogis tend to round their lower back in a way that will more than likely make even minor back pain worse. In fact, overreliance on the frontal abdominal muscles rectus abominis flexes the front body and causes your spine to round exacerbating the backpain.

Boat Pose

3. Shoulder Stand

Similar to a headstand, this one allows your shoulders and neck to stay on the ground, but this puts a tremendous amount of pressure on the back and neck, especially if it isn’t done properly. Avoid this pose until you are stronger.

Shoulderstand

4. Fish

This pose requires a strong upper back and there is no support for the lower back. This means you are supporting the weight of your head almost entirely with your back. Don’t attempt this one unless you get the OK from your chiropractor.

Fish Pose

5. Bow

You may have heard that this pose is terrific when it comes to stretching and strengthening the back, but it’s not for those who may have back injuries or who are experiencing back pain now. Wait until your back has healed and your doctor or chiropractor gives you the OK.

Bow Pose

Keep in mind that ANY pose, if it causes you pain, is not suitable for you at this time and you need to stop immediately.

Essential Tips To Prevent Injuries In Yoga

Even something as good for your body as yoga can bring on unwanted injuries. Good news is that you have control over your practice, and you have the power to minimize the risk that comes with the physical postures.

Follow these essential tips below to save yourself from yoga injuries at home and in a studio:

✔ Stop doing any pose that causes you pain or major discomfort
✔ Always keep your knees slightly bent in all seated and standing forward bends – even if the flexibility is there
✔ Research/ask your yoga instructor about possible pose modifications if the full expression isn’t accessible
✔ Don’t be afraid to rely on props such as yoga blocks for additional support
✔ Always speak to your primary care physician or chiropractor if you have back pain before you start any type of exercise program, even if it seems as harmless as yoga.

When Should You See a Doctor Or Chiropractor?

If you:

  • are experiencing back or neck pain for more than two weeks,
  • have been in any type of accident, including a slip and fall, car accident,
  • were just playing with your kids and you “tweaked” your back,

you should seek out your primary care doctor or a chiropractor before starting any exercise or stretching program.

Your chiropractor’s remedy for back pain will depend on the root cause of your pain. You might have a bulging or herniated disc, disc degeneration, spinal stenosis, arthritis, or you may simply have torn a muscle.

A chiropractor will explain the source of your pain and the treatment for it. You might only need an adjustment, a session or two of chiropractic massage, and some rest.

Once you have healed, your doctor or chiropractor will give you the go-ahead to engage in a yoga program that will have you feeling better than ever before!

Author Bio

Dr. Brent Wells, D.C. founded Better Health Chiropractic & Physical Rehab and has been a chiropractor for over 20 years. His practice has treated thousands of patients in Anchorage and Juneau from different health problems using services including chiropractic care, physical rehab therapy, and massage therapy designed to help patients receive long-lasting relief.

He is a proud member of the American Chiropractic Association and the American Academy of Spine Physicians. And he continues his education to remain active and updated in all studies related to neurology, physical rehab, biomechanics, spine conditions, brain injury trauma, and more.

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