Back pain has become an epidemic in the US. 80 percent of the population will report back pain at some point in their lives, and we spend about $16 billion a year to treat it. Pain in the low back is especially common for many reasons, some of which are outlined below. Can yoga help with this pain? Absolutely.
Low Back StructureWhat is it about the structure of the lower back that would put it at such particular risk for pain? Some of it has to do with the shape of the spinal bones, or vertebrae.
The spine is made up of 24 vertebrae, plus a sacrum and a coccyx (tailbone). Those 24 vertebrae all have different shapes in relation to the bones above and below, and this means they will have more or less movement available, depending on what part of the spine they are in.
For example, the cervical spine, also known as the neck, is extremely mobile in many directions, but the thoracic spine (where your ribs are) is not (and for good reason: there are important organs in there, like your heart and your lungs).
The lumbar spine, also known as your lower back, is also very mobile like the neck, but at the same time it supports the weight of the rest of the torso. This makes it especially prone to injury; if we overstretch the muscles, and then bear too much weight (say, bending over to pick something up) this can put too much pressure on the low back as a result.
What Causes Low Back Pain?In addition to the structure of the back, there are other parts of the body that might contribute to pain in the lower back as a result of our daily habits. Sitting for a long time in a car, or at a desk, will tighten the hamstrings on the back of the thighs, and tight hamstrings set up a line of pull into the buttock muscles and into the low back.
When we sit with our upper body hunched forwards, it pulls on the muscles of the lower back, which can then become stuck that way, or "locked long." These muscles then have a very hard time contracting again, which can lead to discomfort.
These are just a few possible reasons—there are certainly more.
How Does Yoga Help?Beginning a yoga practice will help to clear up some of the muscular issues addressed above—the hamstrings will get a chance to stretch, and the back will get to contract properly and regain its essential tone.
In addition, strength and flexibility will be brought to the rest of the body, and there will be a greater integration of all musculature as it works together to support you!
Sarah Court is a featured Yoga Columnist on Exercise.com where she writes about yoga, fitness and exercise. She teaches weekly Yoga Tune Up? and Vinyasa classes at various locations in Los Angeles, and trains yoga teachers in anatomy and in Yoga Tune Up? across the country. She's been featured in the New York Times and as one of nursingschool.net's 100 Incredible Yoga Teachers Who Blog.