Got Chronic Low Back Pain? Get Yoga!
Exciting News!! Research studies are showing some positive outcomes identifying yoga as an alternative treatment option to manage mild to moderate chronic low back pain! It's helped me:) Don't get me wrong, I still experience some pain but it's not as intense and less drawn out. I'm smiling as I'm writing this and currently pain free!
Chronic back pain plagues a good 80% of the population and one of the main reasons for disability and missed work days. It can be debilitating physically, emotionally and monetarily for the person suffering, the family and society. If you're a sufferer I hope you'll be encouraged to talk with your doctor, do your research and know your options so you can make an informed decision.
So, I'm 54 & have had chronic low back pain that began to progress over the past 7 years or so. I don't remember any significant trauma that could have been the culprit so attributed to aging. It seemed like with each passing birthday I was gifted with a little more pain...ugh!
As an active DIY kind of person, I've mowed many a yard, laid sod, rearranged my furniture, picked up and moved things, carried my daughter around on my hip as a young mom and now carry my grand kids. Ibuprofen and a heating pad have been my self prescribed treatment protocols and were pretty effective for the most part.
It was in the midst of my aging and back "crisis" that I decided to give yoga a try. It was a way to increase peacefulness, mindfulness, flexibility and muscle toning. My goal has always been to stay as healthy as possible. We can't stop the clock but a lot we can do to slow down the ticking.
About a month in to my practice we did a supported bridge pose. It was uncomfortable for me but did it anyway. After class, I talked to my teacher who encouraged me to use a blanket or bolster rather than a block. She reminded me to pay attention to my body and adjust the pose for what I need. This is very good advice!! Well, this was a turning point for me and I made the decision to see an Orthopedic surgeon.
So, one week and an x-ray later, I got the news.... I have disc degeneration (losing the cushion between my vertebrae and spondylolisthesis (this is a condition where discs can slip out of alignment and pinch nerves)...what!..He made a bitter-sweet statement "you certainly don't look your age but your spine sure does" ...hmm. My instructions were and are to be very careful with back and forth motions, don't bend at the waist and don't pick up heavy stuff. But I had just started yoga. I was excited about practicing..could I continue?
Yes! He encouraged me to continue because yoga helps to strengthen the abdominal wall and back muscles which helps protect the spine as well as keeping it in place. He mentioned and suggested physical therapy but was satisfied with the yoga:)
Causes of Chronic Lower Back Pain
This is not an exhaustive list but here are some main causes:
- traumatic Injury
- repetitive movements
- activities and sports that put pressure on bones in the lower back
- bad posture
And here are a few of the conditions that can develop as a result:
- spondylolisthesis (a condition where the vertebrae slip out of place and can pinch nerves)
- disc degeneration (loss of cushion between the vertebrae)
- spinal stenosis (spinal cord channel narrows and pinches the nerves)
- bone spurs (growths that form on the vertebrae)
The most familiar treatments we hear about are medication including NSAIDs (non steroidal anti inflammatory drugs..aka..ibuprofen, naproxen, acetaminophen, aspirin, etc.), opiates, duloxetine (an anti-depressant more commonly known as Cymbalta, surgery and physical therapy. Then we have the alternative options that are positive like acupuncture, massage, stress reduction therapy and yes, yoga!
Like I mentioned in the beginning, we're seeing some positive outcomes in clinical studies exploring yoga and back pain. A study presented in 2016 by Dr. Robert B. Saper from Boston University School of Medicine and Boston Clinical Center showed yoga to have similar outcomes as physical therapy in helping mild to moderate low back pain!
A 2011 NCCIH (National Center for Complimentary & Integrative Health), a division of NIH (National Institutes on Health), study showed positive results with yoga reducing mild to moderate low back pain. Check out their video to learn moreScientific Results of Yoga for Health and Well Being.
Plus, the American College of Physicians has included yoga in their list of non-invasive clinical guidelines in treating mild to moderate back pain.
How Yoga Helps
For me, it's pretty simple. Yoga is a series of movements and postures that are held for different lengths of time with different flows. It's through these movements & poses that the abdominal wall muscles and back muscles are strengthened. This helps protect the spine and to keep it in place and in alignment.
Yoga doesn't have the side effects of medications and there's the bonus of boosting well-being! It helps increase body awareness and improves posture. I work from home, at a desk, on a computer..not the best recipe for great posture. I find myself being so much more aware of my posture which helps me adjust.
NIH NCCIH developed Yoga: In Depth that offers additional information if you'd like to read more.
If you're suffering from mild to moderate chronic low back pain, yoga may be an alternative treatment for you. Studies are showing positive outcomes with yoga being effective in reducing pain and this is positive. It's important to talk with your doctor to better understand the causes of your pain and discuss treatments options.
I didn't fully understand what was happening with my spine and felt better after getting a solid report. It was good to know that my decision to practice yoga was an option for me and it's helped. We have choices and knowing those choices helps with making informed decisions about all things and most importantly, our health!!