Can Yoga Really Help Back Pain?

Jill Miller by Jill Miller | August 6th, 2010 | 11 Comments
topic: Yoga

Yoga therapist helping a studentAs a specialized yoga teacher and yoga therapist, my job is to help people heal themselves through the art and science of yoga. This includes postures, breathing, emotional support and stress reduction. I have witnessed miracles on the mat and in the classroom. The successes I have seen are not unusual. Teachers of yoga of any style see their students’ lives improve on every level with disciplined practice.

Thankfully, many studies supporting yoga’s efficacy are springing up on a regular basis. Dr. Loren Fishman and Ellen Saltonsall are researching sciatica, osteoarthritis and back pain. Their studies are ongoing and very motivating. See my previous blog for more info.

Back pain is no longer for just the over 50 set. I often see younger students  nearly crippled by poor office ergonomics and bad exercise habits. Often these are weekend warriors who spend the other 70 hours a week chained to their desks and cell phones. Back pain is the No. 2 stay-at-home issue for workers after the common cold.

Raymond’s back pain

Raymond (not his real name) is a 29-year-old Internet executive and an avid weekend snowboarder. He flies internationally and sits through dozens of daily meetings. When I met him, he’d had back pain since graduating college. His back can seize up anywhere along his 24 precious vertebrae, but most often clinches in the lower back by mid-day.

His spasm can quickly spiral into debilitation as the spastic back muscles tighten, interfering with the proper function of the breathing muscles. When a body doesn’t breathe well, it stifles the body’s healing responses. The stress of the pain and the poor breathing is a loop that leads to even more stress, muscular freezing and spasms.

On an even deeper level, when those muscles turn into concrete, they also lock up the membranous dura mater that surrounds the spinal cord, essentially reducing efficient nerve flow to the limbs. This is one of the many reasons why pain in the back grabs our full attention: All of our nerves are recruited to remind the body how much it hurts!

Ray’s back pain persisted daily, but once he found a Yoga Tune Up class near work, he started using his lunch hour to reset his spinal musculature using a combination of deep core and hip work that reduced the compression on his spine caused from sitting in his office chair.

Ray’s back pain remedy sequence:

Backbend poses such as Setu Bandha Minivini strengthen all his back muscles while simultaneously lubricating the spinal joints with synovial fluid. Try this dynamic version from my Yoga for Weight Loss Workout Kit: The Jill Miller-Gaiam Bridge Pose

Deep abdominal twists like Jithara Parivartonasana (also know as the Revolved Abdominal Pose) strengthen the core muscles, especially the obliques, and wring out stagnancy in the gut. Here’s a video version of that same pose.

Lower back lengthening and hamstring stretching poses such as Supta Padangusthasana #3 (also know as Leg Stretch #3) twist his pelvis away from the compressed lumbar spine.

Lastly, the power-building Prasarita Lunges tone his inner and outer thighs and lubricate the hip sockets to improve strength from hips to core.

Ray does not get back pain anymore, and can enjoy his weekend and his week as long as he maintains his yoga practice. If you suffer from back pain, try a few of these poses, and let me know how it works!


  1. Yoga is incredibly helpful for the lower back. I found that Leeann Carey has a great free yoga video on pelvic positions that help with alignment. Your readers might want to check it out:

    Anjeanette | August 23rd, 2010 | Comment Permalink
  2. Great post! the info shared on this blog is nothing short of Fantastic :)
    - food for thought for the editor of this blog. Update the picture you use on here so that if someone clicks on it, they are led right to your Facebook profile &/or FB fan page. (the picture is so nice, i would imagine peoples eyes are attracted to it and they may be clicking on it)

    Again great information on the blog, thank you.

    Jason S. | August 25th, 2010 | Comment Permalink
  3. Thanks Jason! Very good idea about the FB linking. I post lots of fun tips on my FB pages…..please connect with me there too!

    Also, if this “back” blog was helpful..scroll back a few months, as there are some other articles on the core that are always helpful for backs!

    Blessings, Jill

    Jill Miller | August 26th, 2010 | Comment Permalink
  4. An individualized yoga approach can be helpful for back pain provided it includes the proper assessment to determine the cause of the pain. I have seen too many yoga instructors have their clients do things that tremendously increase back pain or even cause it! A lot of the time, stability of the core and being able to prevent movement at the low back is a good solution.

    Tim | October 1st, 2010 | Comment Permalink
  5. Thanks for useful info, Jill Miller. Based on my experience, Yoga is very helpful in healing back pain. Some yoga poses that I use are Cobra, Locust, Full Locust, and Bow pose. Equally Important is building abdominal strength with Boat pose and other abdominal exercises. After doing these poses/exercises on a regular basis I haven’t had a hint of back pain in years. Yoga and exercise are great solution for me!

    Harry N Stewart | November 10th, 2010 | Comment Permalink
  6. I always try to proceed myself in a diet regime but the trouble is that I commonly cease .

    Emma | November 25th, 2010 | Comment Permalink
  7. I started introducing kundalini yoga breathing exercises to my physical therapy practice a few years ago. What’s crazy is that the breathing alone has helped decrease my patients lower back pain. It is fun to see responses of patients when this happens. We also do some of the traditional yoga stretching routines, but I was looking for more when i found your site. One thing that might interest your readers would be to also add roman chair exercises to their workout programs. This is helpful for core strengthening and it also vital for creating shapely curves. Thank you for sharing your knowledge in this excellent blog.

    Dr. Howard Knudsen | December 12th, 2010 | Comment Permalink
  8. I have tried Yoga before, but until I found out how to use an inversion table before trying Yoga, it was just too painful.

    My hope is that I will eventually just be able to use Yoga and get rid of the inversion table.

    John | December 15th, 2010 | Comment Permalink
  9. Thanks for the article, I am a beginner with yoga and learned a lot from articles like these!

    Anonymous | January 17th, 2011 | Comment Permalink
  10. I have tried yoga but I don’t have the patience for holding all the poses. I like inversion therapy because it takes me only about 5 minutes per day and it completely decompresses and realigns my spine.

    Anonymous | May 3rd, 2011 | Comment Permalink
  11. Hi Doc,
    I’ve suffered from lower back pain since I was 22. I was a four sport athlete in high school. I’m 28 6′6″ 240lbs now and no change. Performing the balancing act of various doctors, chiropractors, massage therapist, always having to monitor my consumption pattern of pain meds for fear of addiction, ect. has made my lifestyle filled with worry, stress, and pain. There is so much I want say but I just don’t know where to begin. You should have my email and if you could find it in your heart to correspond with me just a little bit with me about your yoga programs, I’d be extremely grateful and I can even compensate you for your time. My life is miserable, back pain has caused me so much more than just pain. It effects everything and never in a positive way it seems.
    One desperate man, Tyler

    Tyler Ellis | November 21st, 2012 | Comment Permalink

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