At any given moment, approximately 20-30% of us are in the throes of an episode of acute, nonspecific back pain. The American Spinal Decompression Association speculates that at least 80% of the US population will experience mild to severe pain lasting anywhere from a month to many years at some point in their lives.
The source of pain may vary, including injury, sedentary lifestyle, poor weight management, dysfunctional movement patterns, weak support muscles, and heredity. Regardless of cause, pain can interfere with daily activity, disrupt sleep, and negatively impact overall quality of life.
Medical interventions such as drugs, injections, or surgery when all else fails can provide symptom relief, but this is a case where smart lifestyle choices go a long way toward both relieving pain and preventing its recurrence. Yoga, and specifically the therapeutic form that I practice and teach–called Viniyoga–is one smart lifestyle strategy. A breath-based practice that can be modified to suit each practitioner’s individual needs, Viniyoga can back up its efficacy with scientific data.
Employing a Viniyoga series that was designed to combat back pain, two randomized controlled trials published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, in 2005 and 2011 concluded that yoga offered safe, effective relief of mild to moderate low back pain.
Two of my teachers, Gary Kraftsow and Robin Rothenberg consulted with the researchers who devised the study criteria and co-created the sequences, which Robin subsequently taught to study participants. She later created a shortened version of the series for the general population, The Essential Low Back Program. I have been certified by Robin to teach this program. I am excited to offer The Essential Low Back Program in small-group settings beginning with a six-week series in May 2016. (You can get more info about it here.)
Don’t assume that physical pain is normal or a regular part of aging. (It’s not.) For persistent pain that lasts longer than two weeks, or pain that seems to be worsening, getting a diagnosis is a must. Start with your doctor, who can help you determine what’s happened. S/he may refer you to a specialist or other health care practitioner.
In the meantime, acute pain that interferes with movement, sleep, or your ability to think straight can be mitigated with very gentle movement. Undulating, floating in water, swaying to music you love–these kinds of movements can temporarily short-circuit the pain signal, provide much needed circulation to the area, and loosen the grip of a chronic holding pattern.
Finding a comfortable resting position is another way to calm your pain response and tap into your body’s ability to self-heal. In this video I help my new client Matt find a way to rest his aching back:
By supporting our joints and cushioning gaps, we can calm the nervous system enough to elicit a relaxation response.
Got back pain? Give it a try and let me know if it helps!