Almost everyone will experience some type of back pain in their lives, from elite athletes to the mostly sedentary. It is one of the leading causes of missed work, doctor visits, and disability (1). Low back pain is the most common type. Some estimates indicate that at least 80 percent of adults struggle with it (2).
Personal trainers are not doctors or medical professionals. You should always suggest your clients see their doctors for medical issues. However, you can suggest some ways for them to prevent and manage back pain. Yoga is a great strategy for preventing, managing, and even eliminating a significant amount of lower and upper back pain.
There are all kinds of reasons people experience back pain, and in many cases, it isn't possible to pinpoint an exact cause. Acute pain, which sets in suddenly and lasts for six weeks or less, is usually caused by an accident or injury. Chronic back pain lasts three months or longer and may be caused by any number of factors. Some potential causes of back pain include:
Bulging or ruptured disks in the spine
Arthritis in the spine, which often occurs in the lower back
Irregularities in the skeletal system
Sometimes there is an underlying illness or condition that causes back pain, like a tumor or kidney stones. It is essential that any client complaining of ongoing back pain see their doctors for a full medical evaluation.
Back pain is more common in people with certain risk factors. People who are obese and sedentary are more likely to struggle with pain. Back pain also becomes increasingly common with age. People who smoke, who have jobs that require a lot of lifting, or who have certain mental illnesses may have more back pain.
There are many ways to relieve back pain with fitness, from foam rolling and stretching to strength training.
If you have a client who has seen their doctor and there is no single or clear cause of back pain, try some yoga poses to help them find relief.
Unless there is a specific, underlying cause, such as an injury or disease, increasing muscle strength in the back can significantly help to reduce pain. Experts recommend physical therapy or other types of exercise that target strengthening of the back and building core strength (2). Stronger muscles help support the back properly in all kinds of movements, limiting and preventing pain.
Yoga has a lot of benefits for fitness and overall health. It is a low-impact way to build muscle strength throughout the body, including in the back. While there are other ways to strengthen back muscles, yoga is a good choice for beginners and any clients for whom more strenuous lifting is difficult or painful.
While yoga is useful as a type of strength training, it also has other benefits. Yoga can be used as a type of mindfulness practice and relaxation strategy. It may reduce stress and anxiety, improve quality of life with pain, and help make pain more manageable through both movements and focused, deep breaths (3).
Try yoga with your clients who struggle with back pain or who just want to improve back strength. Make sure those with pain or other conditions have spoken to their doctors first to approve doing yoga. Especially when working with beginners and clients with back pain, spend time making sure they have the correct form to prevent more issues.
While lower back pain is a more common complaint, strengthening the upper back is just as important. Strong upper back muscles promote good posture, reduce injury risk, improve athletic performance and lifting ability, and prevent back, shoulder, and arm pain.
Strengthening the lower back helps stabilize posture and balance. A strong lower back allows you do to functional, everyday movements with less pain and a lower injury risk. These yoga poses will strengthen your entire back, top to bottom.
The low cobra pose builds strength through the back, including deep and surface muscles.
Lie on the stomach and keep the legs and feet together.
Place hands flat on the floor next to the chest, elbows bent.
Toes are pointed with the tops of the feet on the ground.
Push the chest up off the floor and hold. Lift the hands for an extra challenge.
This is a good beginner pose for anyone with weak back muscles or stiffness that inhibits some movements.
Lie on the stomach and link the fingers of both hands together under the pelvis.
Keeping the arms straight, rest the chin on the floor.
Raise one leg, keeping it straight and avoiding any twisting movement in the hips and pelvis.
Repeat the movement with the other leg.
This more challenging pose really strengthens the back, especially the trapezius and erector spinae, as well as the glutes.
Lie on the stomach with arms next to the body and palms up.
With the forehead resting gently on the floor, lift the head, chest, arms, and legs.
Start slowly with beginners and increase the lift as strength improves.
Hold the pose for as long as possible.
This pose is like the bridge move used to strengthen glute muscles. It particularly strengthens muscles in the lumbar area.
Lie on the back and bend the knees with feet flat on the floor.
Arms are flat against the floor alongside the body.
Lift the hips and squeeze the glutes and contract the lower back.
The warrior I pose is well-known for strengthening the legs and arms, but it also builds upper and lower back strength.
Standing straight, reach the left foot back and twist the left foot about 45 degrees so the toes are pointing out.
Reach the arms up over the head and keep them straight.
Bend the right leg to a 90-degree angle and hold the pose for about a minute.
Keep the body balanced by completing with the right leg back as well.
This position can be challenging but is scalable. It strengthens the core, including the back.
Standing up straight, lift the arms above the head, with palms turned in toward each other.
Sink down, bending at the knees but keeping the back straight and arms up.
The back will lean forward but should remain straight.
Try to bend so the knees are at a 90-degree angle.
For beginners, bend the knees less.
Hold the pose, keeping the back and core muscles strong and tight.
Stretching out the back muscles is important before or after workouts, and to help relieve pain. Muscles can get very tight, making pain worse and undoing the hard work of the strength poses. These poses will stretch out the lower back, upper back, and in some cases the hamstrings, which in turn loosens the lower back.
The cat and cow poses are great for a warmup to back strengthening poses. This helps loosen up the spine and muscles, improves blood flow, and adds a little light strength training.
On all fours on the ground, make sure the wrists are directly under the shoulders and the knees under the hips.
Look up and drop the stomach toward the ground, creating a downward curve in the spine.
Look down, tuck the chin into the neck, draw the stomach in, and round the spine up.
This stretch hits every muscle along the spine and is great for anyone who sits all day.
Lying on the back, stretch arms out the sides, perpendicular to the body.
Bend the left knee and gently place the left foot on top of the right knee.
Let the left knee drop to the right, over the right leg.
Keep shoulders flat on the floor and feel the stretch along the spine.
Repeat on the other side.
This is a popular rejuvenating pose that builds strength and stretches the hamstrings and lower back.
Start with hands and knees on the ground.
Tuck the toes under and lift the tailbone toward the ceiling.
Arms and legs should be straight.
Pull the chest toward the thighs to feel a stretch along the backs of the legs.
This is a great way to wind down and end a workout.
On all fours, stretch the arms out in front of the body.
Sit back until the glutes are just above the heels. They should not rest on the heels.
Pull the arms forward to increase the spine stretch.
Yoga is beneficial for health in so many ways. If you have clients struggling with back pain, or those who simply have been neglecting back strength for too long, add these yoga postures to their regular sessions.
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Mayo Clinic. (2018, August 4). Back Pain. Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/back-pain/symptoms-causes/syc-20369906
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. (2019, August 13). Low Back Pain Fact Sheet. Retrieved from https://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/patient-caregiver-education/fact-sheets/low-back-pain-fact-sheet
Vallath, N. (2010). Perspectives on Yoga Inputs in the Management of Chronic Pain. Indian J. Palliat. Care. 16(1), 1-7. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2936076/
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