4 Ways to Use Yoga for Back Pain

About 80 percent of Americans will have a backache at some point in their lives. In fact, it's the second most common reason why people go to the doctor. For people with repeated or chronic backache, it's among the top reasons why they miss work. Doctors often prescribe pain medication, physical therapy, and even recommend surgery to deal with acute and chronic backache; however, many will attest that the best intervention is to prevent it with exercise. Among the best and safest ways to properly strengthen your back and keep your spine, ligaments, and muscles limber is by doing yoga.  Now, studies show that using yoga to relieve back pain is safe and effective.

Research published in the journal, Spine, evaluated Iyengar yoga therapy on chronic low back pain. Researchers found that when compared with a control group, participants who practiced yoga had significantly greater reductions in functional disability, pain and depression (associated with chronic pain). Earlier studies demonstrated that instructor-led yoga classes were more effective in reducing chronic back pain than exercises guided by a self-study book.

Why is yoga so effective for reducing back pain? Not only is yoga powerful exercise that strengthens back muscles and increases flexibility, it also uses the power of the body-mind connection to help the body heal itself. It adds a meditative element to exercise that encourages deep healing and muscle recovery.

Follow these tips and start letting yoga work its magic on your back.

1. Find the right style. There are many different styles of yoga taught all over the world, ranging from very athletic to very gentle. Ask your doctor, chiropractor or physical therapist to recommend a yoga center or teacher or look online for classes in your area.

With so many styles and classes available, almost everyone can find a class that's safe and appropriate for her fitness level. If you currently have back pain, start with a gentle class designed specifically for back pain recovery. Avoid Power-yoga, Ashtanga and Bikram yoga and aim for Hatha, Iyengar and other slow-paced styles.

2. Use a teacher. It's easy to get injured (even with exercise as gentle as Hatha yoga) if you don't do postures correctly.  Take a few beginner classes (or more if you can afford them) before you try going solo. Tell the teacher about your back pain and follow his recommendations.  If the teacher pushes you beyond your capability and it causes you pain, tell him to ease up. 

3. Use props. Blocks, pads, blankets, belts and other tools of the yoga trade will help you perform poses correctly no matter what your strength and flexibility level.  There's no shame in using props.  Even yoga-professionals use them. They're the best way to work with your body's strengths and limitations without hurting yourself. 

4. Modify poses. A good yoga teacher will help you individualize your yoga practice.  They'll teach you how to modify certain poses (AKA postures) to make them safe and doable, no matter what limitations you may be facing. If one posture increases your back pain, there's always another way to do it or an alternate posture.


Spine (Phila Pa 1976). 2009 Sep 1;34(19):2066-76.

Evaluation of the effectiveness and efficacy of Iyengar yoga therapy on chronic low back pain.

WilliamsK, Abildso C, Steinberg L, Doyle E, Epstein B, Smith D, Hobbs G, Gross R, Kelley G, Cooper L.


Ann Intern Med. 2005 Dec 20;143(12):849-56.

Comparing yoga, exercise, and a self-care book for chronic low back pain: a randomized, controlled trial.

Sherman KJ, Cherkin DC, Erro J, Miglioretti DL, Deyo RA