According to Public Health England, British people lose 28.2 million work days per year due to musculoskeletal problems. And, it may come as no surprise to hear that back pain is the number one offender.
However, it is true that diagnosing the cause of back pain is challenging – and often impossible. As a result, many cases are simply given the label of ‘non-specific low back pain’.
“Non-specific low back pain has become a major public health problem worldwide. The lifetime prevalence of low back pain is reported to be as high as 84%”The Lancet Journal
In cases of non-specific low back pain, GPs and physiotherapists generally recommend a programme of gentle stretching and strengthening exercises to ease the pain.
For this reason, it is understandable that many people suffering from back pain turn to yoga for assistance.
Personally, I would recommend yin yoga as a gentle way to create space in the body.
In short, yin yoga is a practice of gentle stretches that are held for at lease two minutes each in a passive way with very little effort required.
So, just how does this gentle practice help relieve back and other musculoskeletal pain?
Fascia is a giant web of connective tissue that weaves it’s way from top to bottom surrounding every cell in our body including the bones, joints and muscles.
When we are sedentary, dehydrated or sick, fascia loses its elasticity thus reducing mobility and freedom of movement.
In order to free up the tissue, it is necessary to hold gentle stretches for longer than most exercise programme prescribe. As a matter of fact, when you practise yin, it is common to experience the stretch sensation move from one area to another as the fascia begins to release and lengthen.
Another key point is that fascia only responds to the sensation of stretch when our muscles are relaxed. That is why relaxation is a prominent part of a yin yoga class.
Of course, many pain management programmes encourage relaxation techniques. Indeed, relaxation in and of itself can be an effective way to manage back pain.
With this in mind, it is no surprise that participants in a yin yoga class leave feeling both physically and mentally relaxed.
Once again, our lifestyle habits can be blamed for a lack of nutrients being delivered to our joints. That is to say, our bones and joints can become weak without the essential oxygen, lymph and other nutrients that arrive with a healthy, unconstricted flow of blood around the body.
With this in mind, when we release a yin yoga pose, it is normal to feel a ‘rebound’ effect. This comes in the form of tingling, sensations of heat or gentle throbbing similar to the feeling of ‘pins and needles’ after sitting on the floor for too long.
In this case, what we are feeling is the sensation of blood returning to the compressed joint which will become stronger and healthier with repeated practice.
Finally, as a health and fitness professional, I am aware that the causes of back pain are as wide as they are varied. Obviously, I would encourage anyone with ongoing pain of any type to visit their GP who may recommend a programme of stretching and strengthening.
In this case, all genres of yoga have the potential to improve back pain by opening up the physical body and relaxing the nervous system to relieve stress.
But, it’s important to remember that there are many styles of yoga – not all of which are suitable for each individual case. As with any movement programme, when practising yoga, listen to your body, be gentle and never force yourself into poses.
I designed this 30-minute ‘Yin yoga for a healthy back’ as a gentle way to open up and nourish the body in order to prevent back pain. I would love to hear your experience of this or any other yin yoga practice in relation to back pain. Please let me know how it goes in the comments.
May you be happy and healthy!
Check out the on-demand library at Happy Yoga Wales for many more yoga classes and meditations.