If your lower back hurts, join the club. The National Institutes of Health says that four out of five adults experience low-back pain sometime in their lives, and it's a popular reason for doctor visits.
Despite how common low-back pain is, there's no single cause for it. It can come from an injury, tight hamstrings, tight hips, poor posture, excessive joint flexibility, weak core muscles, sitting too long, sciatica, a herniated disk and more. Emotional stress also can be a trigger. Given that laundry list, there isn't a one-size-fits-all exercise regimen for low-back pain.
One thing is pretty clear though: Gentle stretching that both flexes and extends the spine, along with simple core-strengthening work, is a good yoga prescription for the general population, says Tracy Maltz, a physical therapist who supervises the outpatient spine center at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center. But if a certain motion or stretch doesn't feel good, you should back off.
“It's important to listen to your body,” says Maltz, who is also a yoga-teacher trainer of anatomy for Laughing Lotus and Yoga Vida in New York City.
If you feel an ache for more than 12 weeks, it's considered chronic. Unfortunately, it's often hard for medical professionals to figure the cause of chronic lower back pain even with a thorough examination, according to the National Institutes of Health.
Here are three yoga poses Maltz recommends to relieve lower back pain. Doing them once a day is great because the cumulative effect of the exercises helps the most.
1. Baby Cobra
Benefit: Extends the spine and strengthens back muscles.
- Lie on your belly, with your legs straight back and resting on the ground about hip-width apart.
- Place your forehead down and bring your palms down on either side of your chest as you draw your inner arms toward your side torso.
- Inhale as you lengthen the crown of your head away from your shoulders, creating more space between the shoulders and ears.
- Exhale as you press the front of your hips and the tops of your feet into the ground, particularly the pinky-toe side.
- Inhale as you lift your head, shoulders and upper chest, maintaining your neck's natural curve. Exhale to lower. Repeat several times.
2. Legs Up the Wall
Benefit: Stretches the hamstrings and encourages the natural curve of the spine, particularly in the lower back.
- Sit with one hip near a wall, soles of your feet on the ground. Pivot your seat to face the wall, and lie back.
- Lift your legs, so that your heels can rest on the wall. If the back of your legs feels painfully tight, scoot your buttocks farther from the wall. Try to find a distance that allows your legs to be straight or close to it.
- Take 10-20 breaths.
3. Forearm Plank
Benefit: Strengthens core muscles, which help stabilize the spine.
- Come to hands and knees. Lower to your forearms, keeping them parallel as you place your elbows under your shoulders.
- Broaden your palms, spread your fingers, and press your inner wrists down.
- Walk your feet back, and tuck your toes under to lift your knees, creating a straight line from your heels to your shoulders. If your belly and/or hips sag (which is bad for your lower back!), drop your knees.
- Actively pull your belly toward your spine and broaden across your shoulder blades.
- Start by holding for a couple breaths, increasing the hold duration over time.
Learn more about journalist Mitra Malek at mitramalek.com.