Yoga for lower back pain is a great way to heal both the mind and body. Here are 12 of the best yoga poses for lower back pain (and a few videos to get you started!).
Is yoga good for lower back pain?
Yoga stretches and strengthens every muscle in the body. Even basic poses offer a wonderful foundation to build muscle strength and flexibility, develop a strong core, and reduce back pain. Carving just 15 minutes from your day to move and breathe could help you reduce your lower back pain.
Because we now recognize that pain comes with not only physical but also mental and emotional challenges, yoga for lower back pain is also an excellent practice for stress reduction and relaxation.
Recent research into yoga for lower back pain
Even though yoga has been in practice for thousands of years, its benefits can be challenging to quantify. Here are some of the most recent findings on the benefits of yoga for lower back pain.
- In 2017, the American College of Physicians recommended yoga and other noninvasive treatments as a first-line intervention for treating acute and chronic lower back pain
- When compared to physical therapy and other self-care options, people doing yoga for lower back pain took fewer pain relievers after their initial treatment
- Yoga reduces chronic lower back pain and disability
- Patients who do yoga have reduced pain levels and improved sleep
- Small-scale studies show that yoga can help reduce back pain related to both degenerative and adolescent idiopathic scoliosis
For patients seeking the mental and emotional benefits of yoga, yoga increases relaxation, improves mental health, helps concentration, and increases mindfulness. Further, there are no drug interactions or side effects to this practice, and everyone can access yoga for lower back pain safely, regardless of age or fitness level.
Can yoga make lower back pain worse?
In general, deep forward fold poses are not advised for people with acute and painful backs or directly after surgery. A physical therapist can help you transition into poses that support healing.
In some cases, yoga for lower back pain can actually make pain worse (and may cause additional damage). Proceed with caution if you have:
- An acute injury that is causing extreme pain
- A bulging or herniated disc
- Sudden, extreme, unexplained back pain
Although your spine is beautifully strong and designed to support your body, when it is vulnerable and injured it’s best to talk to your doctor before beginning any new exercise program.
If you do get the all-clear from your doctor, consider taking a beginner yoga class to improve alignment. Listen to your body, too. If any posture causes sharp pain, back off and try something else.
Build your yoga for lower back pain routine, safely
Even if the practice of yoga is ancient, research on the benefits of yoga for lower back pain is still in its infancy. Because of this, it is important to begin your practice under the supervision of your doctor and with a qualified yoga teacher.
Yoga teachers are not regulated in the U.S., but teachers registered with the Yoga Alliance as either RYT-200 (a registered yoga teacher with 200 hours of training) or RYT-500 (registered but with 500 hours of training) have met a standard set of rigorous training guidelines. An “E” indicates that they are experienced teachers, and most Yoga Alliance-certified teachers also list any specialties they may hold (e.g., prenatal yoga or therapeutic yoga).
Start slowly, and again, listen to your body. Some soreness after activity is to be expected with any new exercise program, but sharp, stabbing or shooting pain is an indication that something is not right. Approaching yoga for lower back pain in a gentle, restorative way can help you learn to find relief from pain while improving your flexibility and stress levels.
You can start with a few poses each day or find a video or online class that guides you through a sequence of yoga for lower back pain. Whichever works best for you depends on your condition and treatment plan, so talk to your doctor (and yoga teacher!) before starting.
The 12 best yoga poses for lower back
There are a variety of poses that target specific areas of the back, and others that improve overall back health. Here we have a good sampling of 12 poses, including some beginner yoga for back pain poses.
1. Cat and cow pose
Begin on all fours with your knees below your hips and your wrists below the shoulders. As you inhale, drop your belly to the ground, letting your lower back deeply arch and your shoulder blades slide onto your back.
Exhale and drop your tailbone, rounding through the lower, middle, and upper back before dropping your head last.
Breathe deeply and slowly, and use your entire breath to move. Try to start with five repetitions, adding more as it feels good to you.
From your hands and knees, tuck your toes and lift your tailbone into the air, forming an upside down “V” with your body. Reach your heels down to the floor, but don’t worry if they don’t touch.
You can keep your knees deeply bent if that feels better for your back. Reach the crown of your head towards your hands as your shoulder blades move together and down the back. Press firmly into your hands to support healthy wrists.
Stay here for five deep breaths, then rest, eventually working up to a minute or more as the pose becomes more available to you.
3. Locust pose
From downward dog, shift forward onto your hands into a plank position and lower to the floor. Keeping your arms by your sides with your palms face down, inhale as you lift your head, chest, and legs away from the floor.
You may only be able to lift a few inches off the ground. That’s okay. If lifting your shoulders and feet together is too much, try alternating by raising the chest only and then lowering before lifting the legs.
Stay elevated for 30 seconds and then release. Relax for a moment, and then repeat once or twice more. This pose strengthens the back muscles and provides a slight back bend without overly exerting the spine.
4. Bridge pose
Roll over and lie on your back. Place your feet about hip-distance apart and a handprint away from your sitting bones. Bend your elbows so that your palms are facing each other across your body. Press your feet, head, and the backs of your upper arms into the mat to help lift your hips to the sky, curving your back as much as feels comfortable.
If you have the shoulder mobility, you can clasp your hands under your back, pressing them into the ground. For those who struggle with this posture, place a yoga block or several pillows underneath your sacrum, the bony triangle at the base of your spine, for support.
Stay here, breathing, for about one minute.
5. Reclined spinal twist
There are several variations on reclined twists. When you’re just starting out, take this pose slowly and don’t over twist to aggravate any lower back pain. This version may be a little gentler and more accessible to start.
Lie down on your back. Bend both knees and bring your feet mat’s-width distance apart. With arms stretched out in the shape of a T and feet staying where they are, exhale and drop your knees to the left. Gaze can shift to the right if that is okay for your neck.
Want something deeper? Place your left ankle on your right knee. Too much? Add blocks underneath both knees. Stay here and breathe for at least ten breaths (and up to five minutes).
6. Child’s pose
From all fours, begin to sink your hips back to your heels. You can untuck your toes and bring your big toes to touch and let your knees be wide, or you can keep your inner legs together. Your arms can stretch forward on the mat or rest alongside your body.
Some good modifications to make this more accessible:
- Use blocks under your hips if they don’t quite reach the floor
- Use a block under your forehead
- Roll a blanket and place it between your hips and ankles for gentle support
Stay in child’s pose and breathe deeply for at least ten breaths (and as many as five minutes).
On your belly with tops of the feet pressed into the mat, bring your elbows directly beneath your torso to lift your upper body off the mat. Stretch your hands in front with your fingers spread wide and firm on the mat.
Relax your glute muscles, relax your belly as you breathe, and relax your shoulders away from your ears. If you’d like, place a block on the tallest setting in front of you on the mat and rest your forehead on it for support (make sure your neck is long and shoulders stay relaxed).
Breathe here for at least ten breaths and as long as you’d like. Sphinx is a great pose for both lower and upper back pain.
8. Figure-4 stretch (standing, lying down, or seated)
Figure-4 stretch is a great way to relieve the pain and pressure of sciatica. This can be done standing, lying down, or seated in a chair. Hold each pose for five to ten breaths.
Standing: This requires balance but can be done while holding onto a chair or a wall.
- Bring weight into the left foot and lift your right leg
- Bend your right knee
- Bring your right ankle to rest just above your left knee (bend into the left knee slightly)
- Stay here, or sink your hips a bit lower and breathe
- Repeat on the other side
Lying down: A gentle option that you can modify as needed.
- Lie on your back and bend both knees
- Bring your right ankle to your left knee
- Use your hands (or your muscle strength) to gently press the right knee away from you
- Breathe here and repeat on the other side
Seated: Chair postures are great for those who struggle getting up and down from the floor.
- Sit with your ankles directly below your knees and knees level with your hips
- Sit up tall, feeling the chair beneath you and the crown of your head stretching to the sky
- Place your right ankle on your left knee
- Encourage your right knee to relax to the ground
- Fold forward if you would like a little more stretch
- Breathe here and repeat on the other side
9. Forward fold (standing or seated)
Approach forward folds cautiously, especially if your injury is active. A seated fold might be a better choice if you are just starting out.
Seated: A more gentle approach.
- Sit on the floor
- Extend your legs in front of you, keeping the knees bent
- Take a deep breath in, lengthening the crown of your head to the sky
- On an exhale, press your navel to your spine, hinge at the hips, and fold forward
- Imagine that you are reaching towards your toes with your heart
Standing: Gravity helps your hamstrings lengthen.
- It is crucial that your hands make contact with something, so use blocks to bring the floor closer if you need to
- Bend your knees very deeply and hinge at the hips to fold forward
- The deeper the bend in your knees, the better the stretch for your hamstrings and your lower back pain
For those of us who avoid abdominal workouts, this might be the most challenging set of postures. The lower back does not operate in a vacuum, though. In many cases, the root cause of back injury starts with weaker abdominal muscles.
But there is good news: you are not aiming for a ripped six-pack here. Those superficial muscles don’t actually mean that the underlying muscles are strong enough to support the lower back. A plank pose, on hands or on forearms, targets the deep abdominal muscles and obliques.
For forearm plank, start as in sphinx above, then lift your hips off the ground by pressing your navel to your spine to engage your belly. Press your heels and crown of the head away from each other and bring your shoulder blades together on your back.
If you are planking on your hands, come to a push-up position and make alignment adjustments as above.
If you feel your hips sagging, lower down, rest, and try again. It is better to do just a few seconds at a time in proper form than it is to make your back feel worse with poor alignment. You can also bring your knees to the earth for a rest (or for the whole posture when you are starting out).
Aim for 15 seconds, three times a day, gradually adding on time until you can hold a plank for one minute, three times a day, comfortably. Eventually you can consolidate and simply do a three-minute (five-minute?) plank once a day.
11. Side plank
Side plank targets the oblique muscles specifically in support of a strong lower back. You can start in forearm plank, then gradually roll to the side of your left foot, keeping your left forearm and elbow steady on the ground. Reach your top arm to the sky.
If balance is tricky, you can bend your top leg and place a foot on the floor in front of you. Relax your shoulder blades onto your back and reach through the crown of your head and down through your tailbone. With every inhale, press your hips up towards the sky.
Go for the same time frame as plank pose above and remember that proper form matters. Remember to repeat on the other side!
Puppy pose lengthens the spine and helps relieve the pain of compression, especially in the lower back.
Come to all fours, making sure your knees are directly beneath your hips. Keeping your hips hip, begin to walk your hands forward, lowering your chest towards the ground (like a puppy who wants to play). You can rest your forehead on the earth or a block
If this stretch is too intense, use pillows or a yoga bolster to catch your chest and provide support. Breathe deeply into the belly and lower back for at least five breaths (and as many as feels good!).
Yoga sequences for back pain videos
Especially if you are new to yoga, going to a live class with a teacher who can help you modify your shape is the best. But on days when too much movement is not possible, here are three of our favorite yoga sequences for back pain.
Move along with the Bearded Yogi and his teacher in this 20-minute class that is great for beginners who are ready to build more strength.
Need some relief from lower back pain and a better night of sleep? Try this ten-minute sequence for both.
This 22-minute sequence beautifully integrates breath with movement in a supportive sequence that is good for the whole body (but demonstrates some great poses for back pain).
Get help with your lower back pain
Yoga for lower back pain is a research-backed option, but the best pain management plans are comprehensive and encompass a variety of options. Whether you are just starting treatment or looking for a new medical practice, a pain specialist can help.
Find a pain specialist in Arizona or Texas by clicking the button below or look for one in your area by using the tips here: https://paindoctor.com/pain-management-doctors/.