Hatha yoga is good ther­apy for lower back pain

The Saline Courier Weekend - - OPINION - D . R GLAZIER

Dear Doc­tor: A few months ago, my hus­band and I helped our old­est son move into his first apart­ment. I don’t know what hap­pened ex­actly, but my lower back has been hurt­ing ever since. I would rather not use any med­i­ca­tions and have heard that yoga can be good for back pain. Is this true?

Dear Reader: First, as fel­low par­ents, we want to con­grat­u­late you on the mile­stone of your son’s first apart­ment. It’s not sur­pris­ing that you may have ac­ci­den­tally over­done it with the heavy lift­ing.

The lo­cal­ized pain you de­scribe sounds like mus­cle strain, which can re­sult from overuse. Other causes could be poor pos­ture or body me­chan­ics dur­ing tasks that involve lift­ing, pulling or twist­ing. An­other common type of back pain, which orig­i­nates in the lower back or but­tocks re­gion and ra­di­ates down one leg, is as­so­ci­ated with bulging or rup­tured discs. These can press on the sci­atic nerve, which will cause sharp, stab­bing pain.

The good news is that yoga can help you man­age and ease the type of lower back pain you have de­scribed. The gen­tle and de­lib­er­ate move­ments as­so­ci­ated with the prac­tice of hatha yoga make it pos­si­ble to iso­late spe­cific mus­cle groups. The poses are de­signed to al­ter­nately strengthen mus­cle groups and then gen­tly stretch them. The move­ments are also slow enough that you can stop the in­stant you feel dis­com­fort or pain. Yoga is also ef­fec­tive at de­vel­op­ing “core strength,” or the ab­dom­i­nal mus­cles that sup­port an up­right spine and proper align­ment.

Hatha yoga in­volves cer­tain “poses” that can be help­ful for lower back pain. This por­tion of an asana, or yoga pose, is typ­i­cally ac­com­pa­nied by slow, deep breath­ing, which re­sults in ad­di­tional relaxation. Peo­ple with lower back pain who seek re­lief through hatha yoga re­port that the prac­tice gives them en­hanced aware­ness of proper spinal align­ment, which pro­motes good pos­ture.

Check with your doc­tor or phys­i­cal ther­a­pist be­fore start­ing a yoga pro­gram for lower back pain. When done im­prop­erly, any type of ex­er­cise, even yoga, can ag­gra­vate the in­jury and make mat­ters worse. (And please note that yoga is not rec­om­mended for any­one with a slipped disc or a spinal frac­ture.)

If your health care provider agrees that yoga is a good fit for your sit­u­a­tion, you can take some easy steps to make sure you stay safe. Con­sider classes that are de­signed specif­i­cally to address lower back pain. Spe­cial yoga classes of­ten are avail­able at se­nior cen­ters or com­mu­nity cen­ters. If a gen­eral yoga class is the only op­tion in your area, tell the in­struc­tor that you have a back in­jury. He or she may be able to tai­lor the poses to your spe­cific needs and re­duce the risk of further harm to your back as you per­form the poses.

Eve Glazier, M.D., MBA, is an in­ternist and as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor of medicine at UCLA Health. El­iz­a­beth Ko, M.D., is an in­ternist and as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor of medicine at UCLA Health.

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