As anyone who has chronic lower back pain knows, sometimes it feels like nothing you do actually brings relief. But a recent study shows a few specific yoga poses might do the trick. “We knew already that physical therapy can have excellent results for people with back pain, but we wanted to see how it did going head-to-head with yoga,” says Robert Saper, MD, lead study author and associate professor of family medicine at Boston University School of Medicine. “We compared a specially designed yoga class with one-on-one physical therapy sessions. At the end of 12 weeks, both groups had equal improvements. They had less pain, improved function, reduced medication use, and felt satisfied with the results.”
When the study began, 70 percent of participants were taking some form of pain medication. After three months, that number had dropped to 50 percent in both of the groups. “Many patients with chronic back pain think they need to just suffer through it, but they don’t,” says Saper. While the yoga class used in the study had a very specific structure, Saper thinks yoga classes labeled as restorative, gentle, or therapeutic could benefit someone with back pain. And the poses can even be done at home. “Certain poses give you a lot of extension in your lower back—they cause you to bend your spine backwards, which increases the space between the discs and allows for a little more breathing space around the spinal cord,” says Dr. Saper. “They also strengthen the core muscles, which is critical for reducing back pain.” Here are four stretches that do just that. Hold each pose for three long, deep breaths.
1. Child’s Pose: Kneel on the floor, moving your knees slightly apart while keeping your toes together. Bend forward and sit your tailbone back towards your feet. Bring your forehead towards the floor and move your arms either overhead or out to the side. If possible, rest your forehead on the mat.
2. Locust Pose: Lie on your stomach and rest your forehead on the floor. Place your hands behind you with palms facing up, and point your toes away from you. Simultaneously lift your head, upper chest, arms, and legs off the ground. Rest your weight on your belly and pelvis area and keep your gaze forward or slightly down. Hold, then release and lower your body slowly back to the mat.
3. Sphinx Pose: Lie on your stomach and rest your forehead on the floor. Bend your elbows and place them under your shoulders, close to your body, with your forearms on the ground and hands in front of you. Point your legs behind you with toes on the mat. Press forearms into the ground, and lift your head and chest up. Keep your gaze forward or slightly down. Hold, then release and lower your chest and head slowly back to the mat.
4. Bridge Pose: Lie on your back with knees bent and feet as close to your hips as possible. Make sure your feet are parallel and that your knees are right above them. Place your arms by your sides, hands facing down. Press into your feet and lift your lower back and pelvis up off the floor. Keep your shoulders on the mat and knees parallel. Hold, then slowly return your back and pelvis to the floor.
This article is not intended to substitute for informed medical advice. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or condition. Always check with your doctor before changing your diet, altering your sleep habits, taking supplements, or starting a new fitness routine.