My Aching Back: Yoga Poses & Tips for Lower Back Relief.

Via Kimberly Lo
on Mar 2, 2014
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Source: via Elizabeth on Pinterest

Beginning at an early age, I’ve problems with lower back pain.

I’m hardly alone—in the United States, an estimated 31 million suffer from this malady at any given time.

Indeed, one of the main reason I started yoga in the first place was that I thought that it might help my low back woes. It did, but at the time I had no idea why that was the case. (I erroneously though that my back problems were the result of tight lower back muscles and yoga was helping to stretch things out.)

As it turns out, my problem was the result of several things, but tight lower back muscles was not one of them. Namely, my chief problems were weak core muscles and shorten heel cords.

The latter, which is common in women who are chronic high heel wearers, can also cause the muscles in the backs of the legs to ache. In severe cases, it can be impossible for the sufferer to wear flat shoes for long periods of time or even stand around barefoot. I never wore high heels, but I did toe-walk as a child which caused those heel chords to shorten. My sedentary lifestyle in my teens and early 20s did not help either.

While not everyone’s lower back  problems are the result of shorten heel cords and weak core muscles, lengthening the former and strengthening the latter can go a long way towards helping or preventing lower back problems. Indeed, nearly even doctor, podiatrist, or fitness pro I have ever spoke to says that everyone they have ever encountered with lower back problems have a weak core.

The good news is, lower back relief can be relieved or even cured. The tips below have been a great help to me and require minimal time and fuss.

Read below for some of the best I have found:

(Note: Keep in mind that it’s best to check with a doctor or health care provider before embarking on this or any fitness regime.)

1. Lengthen the heel cords.

As mentioned above, this particular ailment often strikes chronic high heel wearers. While many think the best fix is to stop wearing heels and switch to flats, this can often be a recipe for more pain.

As podiatrist Suzanne Levine explains in her foot care classic, My Feet are Killing Me, shorten cords are often unable to stretch to accommodate flats.  Instead, she recommends switching to shoes with a one inch heel and lengthening the cords until they can tolerate flat shoes.

As a yoga instructor, one of the best things I have found for this is downward facing dog. In fact, I urge back pain sufferers if they only learn one yoga pose to learn this one.

The key to using this pose to help lengthen the heel cords is to never, ever force the heels to the floor. Doing so will almost always result in injury. For some people, the heels may never reach the floor, and that’s okay. However, over time, they should should come closer to the ground. (In the case of extremely tight cords, place a blanket or towel underneath the feet for extra support and height. Just be careful to chose one that won’t slide around on the mat.)

Another pose that is helpful is ardha hanumanasana or half front splits pose. While some newbies may flinch at the mere mention of “splits” the goal here is not to go into a full split. I love this pose because it can be modified for even the tightest of students. Using blocks is also a great idea.

For someone with both ultra-tight heel cords and tight hips, I recommend starting out with the hands on blocks at their highest height. As flexibility increases, the blocks can be lowered and eventually the hands may be able to reach to the ground. As in the case of downward facing dog, the key is not to force the body until it is ready.

2. Strengthening the core.

While many people hear the word “core” and immediately think of six pack abs, the fact is those lower core muscles-the ones that we cannot see-go a much longer way in protecting our lower backs than the ones that make up a six pack.

I was surprised to learn that despite having a rather flat stomach with some visible muscle definition, my overall core is very weak. (One of the best ways to test your core muscles is to try crossing your feet and trying to lift them off the ground. Those of us with weak cores will notice we are using our arms far more than our core to try and complete the task.)

One of the easiest ways to access those lower core muscles is to stand in tadasana or mountain pose. While it may look easy, when done correctly, tadasana is engaging those core muscles to keep us upright. (I tell my students to imagine that someone is going to push on their bellies and engage the core muscles to prevent them from stumbling backwards.)

Other great poses include cobra and boat/navasana pose. In both cases, remembering to draw the navel back to the spine will keep those low abs engaged and build strength.

Lower back pain can be miserable and something that most of us wouldn’t wish on our worst enemy.

However, help is available and following the above tips can provide relief in a relatively short amount of time.

Even if you happen to be one of those lucky souls who has never suffered from low back pain, it is a good idea to take steps to prevent it from happening.

As someone who has suffered from it, I can say with some degree of authority that this is one of those cases where an ounce of prevention is worth several pounds of cure.

Relephant reads. 

Yoga & The Lower Back: From Pressure to Power. 

Sciatica & Yoga. 

How & Why Yoga Helps Lower Back Pain. 

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Editor: Bryonie Wise

Photo: elephant archives



About Kimberly Lo

Kimberly Lo is a yoga instructor and freelance editor & writer based in Charlottesville, VA. In her spare time, she enjoys needlework, travel, and photography. Connect with her on Facebook.


11 Responses to “My Aching Back: Yoga Poses & Tips for Lower Back Relief.”

  1. ellenfein says:

    I am glad that you found these poses work for you and I agree completely that an ounce of prevention is important. But both in western science and yoga teachings, there are some other key points to prevention that include mobilizing the spine in all directions at a level that is appropriate for your body. And back pain can be caused by so many different conditions – what works for you might actually be aggravating for someone else. We need to be careful not to oversimplify either the condition or the possible interventions.

  2. kimberlylowriter says:

    I agree. This is why I made it clear to speak to a doctor or healthcare provider first and made it clear this was specifically for back pain caused by shorten heel cords and weak core muscles. (BTW, per Dr. Suzanne Levine, that accounts for roughly 80% of all cases of lower back pain.)

  3. atenea says:

    Both interesting and useful article, thanks! A note to Elephant Journal: please proofread every article before posting. There's a few errors in this one, and in many others, especially lately. Thanks!

  4. Annahandi says:

    I agree wholeheartedly with the comment posted by atenea– although this article has some helpful suggestions for those of us who suffer from back pain, it is fraught with grammatical and spelling errors that make it difficult to read without wincing.

  5. Guest says:

    This article is not accurate in many respects . Yoga is one of the best activities for developing a strong core. Your recommendations here and the fact that you are a yoga teacher, down dogs and and boat poses, among many other poses should have helped you avoid having these problems. Down dog only addresses the stretching of gastrocnemius, not the soleus. Both these muscles attach to the achilles tendon and if soleus is the culprit of your "shortened cords", then you have done nothing to address the real offender. Why do you infer that lower abs are responsible for core stability (do you know what they even are?) I suggest taking an anatomy course not only for you, but you as a teacher, so for the sake of your students' safety. Also, referencing Dr. Suzanne Levine, is not a very yogic source. She is a podiatrist who would rather botox people's feet so that they can continue to wear high heals, rather than educate her patients about good foot care.

  6. guest says:

    Check out Michaelle Edwards. She has wonderful alignment recommendations that really work for many spinal and back problems. It's called Yogalign and can be found on her website.

  7. kimberlylowriter says:

    This article dealt with specific 2 causes of lower back pain: a weakened core and shorten heel cords. It even says that not everyone's lower back pain is the result of these two things.

    Also, I point out that these problems bothered me before I started yoga, and yoga helped,

    Dr. Suzanne Levin may not a be a yogi, but she her years as a podiatrist does make her an expert on lower back problems caused by these specific things. Also, her books have educated many people on proper foot care and lower back care which results from foot problems. Therefore, it isn't fair or correct to dismiss her.

    By the way, she probably knows more about anatomy than the majority of people who complete 500 hr RYT courses. I am the first to say that I am not an expert on anatomy. However, even if I was, I write my articles in layman's term. You're snarky question about do I even known where my lower abs are seems to have nothing to do with this piece.

    Lastly, as far as putting anyone at risk, there is nothing here that I see would put anyone at risk especially if done under the guidance of a yoga instructor. It does not bother me if you or anyone else corrects misinformation or shares your opinions-good, bad, otherwise-about anything I write but to start off your post the way you did when I clearly state that I had these problems before I started yoga and they were indeed helped by yoga makes me wonder if you even read the piece or if your main purpose was to stir things up.

  8. kimberlylowriter says:

    EJ's editors do their best to correct spelling and grammar errors. There is even a link to contact them.

    Sometimes articles are published with errors-authors and editors are only human after all-but to say it's nearly unreadable is a bit of a stretch. (No pun intended).

  9. I really find this idea great. Yoga also works not only with back pains but also with foot aching. I've been doing yoga for about a year now with my tendinitis. Try it also guys, it really works.

  10. Adam Scoot says:

    That was really great tips and I found it interesting and experimenting on my fitness regimen! Must appreciate for your good stuff.

  11. cosmicmom50 says:

    There *are* a few errors….