By: Dr. Joseph Duchene, DC, Licensed Chiropractor
How do I use yoga to help with my back pain?
It is not uncommon for me to see people who both do yoga and have back pain. Some of the people I see actually get into yoga because it can help with their back pain. So, how do I use yoga to help with my back pain?
There are three areas of human performance that will help cause back pain. They are under conditioning, immobility and instability. In the beginning, you can tackle these with a regular yoga practice and coaching from a great yoga instructor. There may come a point where you need to dig a little deeper to see if you have underlying pathology.
Under conditioning is most often present in those doing yoga for the first time or a new type of yoga. Under conditioning is lacking the strength and/or stamina to go through an exercise.
One of the biggest problems I find with those that start yoga or a new yoga routine, is underestimating the physical demand of a yoga practice. The idea of increasing strength and stamina is to press the muscles to facilitate growth. Where under conditioning comes into play is when we leave some of the weaker muscles behind and we use larger muscle groups to take on the load.
The first place we see this is in the proper form for an exercise. Once we see proper form decrease, we know that an integral muscle group has reached its limit. This usually results in muscle groups doing a job they are not built to do.
One area we see this is in the hamstrings and glute max. Many times we have overactive hamstrings because the glute max is under functioning. This results in chronic tight hamstrings. Some things that you might experience are: back pain, knee pain, sciatica, hip pain, plantar fasciitis, Achilles tendonitis and other pain syndromes of the low back and lower extremity.
At home solution: Warm-up before you do yoga. A warm-up is not stretching, it is a warm-up. That would be moving around to warm the muscles up. You can run through your exercises at about a 25% intensity level to warm the muscle groups up.
Second at home solution: Know your limits. Once your muscles have gotten a great work out, don’t press them too far. It is a short distance from a good workout to a muscle strain. Once your proper form has diminished, you have usually reached peak efficiency for that exercise.
Professional solution: Check for actual muscle imbalances, muscle inhibition or another pathological process that could be preventing you from going the distance. This is where a good sports chiropractor can come in handy. Trainers, coaches and teachers are a good resource; but, they are not trained in pathology. If you have a chronic problem, then get a professional to check you out. It will save you a ton of time and money.
One of the first things that my older patients usually ask me about regarding stiffness is: “Should I start a yoga routine to loosen up?”
Immobility can express itself as a lack of flexibility. This is most commonly thought of as “getting older.” But, stiffness is a problem across all age groups, each for a different reason.
Joints are meant to stabilize and mobilize. You want a good healthy balance between the two. Here we are going to talk mostly about joints that mobilize. For back pain, this would be the upper back, hips and ankles.
If a joint that is supposed to mobilize does not have the muscle and structural support, it will change function and start to stabilize. This means get stiff. A lack of good mobility is a first sign of a muscular imbalance. You might notice this in your yoga routine as not being as flexible as those around you.
A great basic way to see if you have a mobility problem is to go through some basic range of motion movements. Can you bend over and touch your toes? Can you bend backwards? Can you rotate your hips and back?
At home solution: Mobile joints are meant to move. A good first step is to practice moving the joints that are supposed to move. Go through what range of motion you have, making sure not to press it too much. The more you go through a natural range of motion, the more motion you will get back. Then, go to your yoga practice, step by step, and practice the range of motion you want to improve.
Professional solution: Chiropractic is based upon segmental mobility. This mostly means, are the joints pathologically moving and do they need a specific treatment. Your chiropractor is the only professional trained to look for and treat segmental mobility problems. If you have pain with any range of motion, that is not normal and it should be checked out by a professional.
By now, you most likely know something about your core and how it stabilizes your body. It is not the only stabilizing muscle group in the body.
Most of the time stability elements like your core and knees fail because the surrounding mobility joints are not doing their job. This is how hip mobility issues can help create problems in the low back and knees.
If you have a problem with stability then you will notice it in your stamina when holding certain yoga poses. This will be a shaking of the muscles, arms and/or legs. If you cannot stabilize then sometimes you just cannot do certain poses or routines.
Some areas that you might notice a stability problem are: clicking and popping in your knees and sometimes feet, low back stiffness after getting up from a chair or getting up out of bed in the morning, having to use the heat from the shower to get the low back moving again, and pain in the back and lower extremities.
At home solution: Getting some good yoga instruction and practice can really help a basic stability problem. If you practice within your capacity, you should find an increase in stability. A big key into improving this across the board is to tackle both conditioning and mobility at the same time.
Professional solution: There are many pathological problems of the low back and legs that can help create or are a sign of stability problems. The most common would be arthritis. Mobility and stability go hand in hand. If your core is not where it should be, even though you are doing all the right things, you need to get a professional involved. Chiropractors are the most common doctor to see for this. Many chiropractors work hands-on with athletes and refer out for proper medical management, if needed.
This is meant to be an introductory into using yoga to help with back pain. Lean on your instructors and mentors. There comes a time when you need to seek a professional to move to the next step. Please remember, it is never normal to have pain when doing any exercise. There might be soreness and discomfort, but never pain. If you have been experiencing pain for more than 4 weeks, it is definitely time to seek a medical professional for help.
If you need help, please contact me at my office: (214) 989-6814 and we will do the best we can to get you the help you need. We will also be at the Cosmic Yogi festival in November. I will be there to answer any questions and I will be speaking on overcoming chronic yoga complaints. I look forward to seeing you there!
Dr. Joseph DuChene, Jr., DC, licensed Chiropractor
DuChene Natural Health Center
8200 Brookriver Dr #702
Dallas, TX 75427