By Jessica Beasley, Holistic Health & Nutrition Coach and Yoga Teacher www.thoroughlynourished.com
I’ve suffered from chronic back pain on and off ever since I was a teenager training in gymnastics. With back pain running in my family, I’ve learned to manage most of my discomfort drug-free. Practicing yoga on a regular basis has formed the basis of my relief strategy, which is also supported by some simple tips I’ve outlined below for dealing with the symptoms.
As common as it is, it’s often forgotten just how many people are coping with back pain. According to the American Chiropractors Association, 31 million Americans experience lower back pain at any given time. It’s estimated as many as 80% of the American population will experience a back problem at some point in their lives – not to mention at least $50 billion each year in tangible expenses.
Drugs aside, next time you’re feeling that ache or twinge, before you reach for the pain killers give one of these tips a go and see how your body responds. In any case, allowing your body adequate time to rest will most definitely aid in reducing your recovery time.
- Try an anti-inflammatory diet to reduce inflammation in the body. Include foods rich in omega 3 fatty acids such as wild salmon or flax/chia seeds, cinnamon, turmeric, coconut oil, ginger, garlic, green tea and avoid trans fats, processed meats, sugar and alcohol
- Take a magnesium supplement to reduce muscle cramping and tension, or soak in a warm Epsom salt bath to relax the muscles and benefit from the magnesium in the Epsom salts absorbing through the skin
- Rub tiger balm or deep heat on the affected area for instant soothing relief
- Use a foam roller or small ball to roll over sore muscles to reduce tension
- Use a hot water bottle or a wheat pack, as the heat helps to relax the muscles and soothes aches and pains
- Review your sleeping position and ensure your back isn’t twisting at an angle while you sleep. You could try sleeping with a pillow wedged in between the knees as you lie on your side, or use a body pillow
- Invest in a good quality bed that compensates for the natural curves of the spine
- Wear supportive footwear and avoid flimsy sandals and high heels that don’t offer any support
- Prevention through lengthening, stretching and strengthening yoga exercises can help repair and build muscles and reduce the risk of ongoing pain.
Yoga for back pain
I’ve been practicing yoga on and off for around 10 years now. Only in the last couple of years have I really deepened my practice and started to feel the benefits of doing it on a regular basis. At first I realized I was coping better with stress, sleeping better and my personal relationships were improving. It gave me the headspace to work through my personal issues and taught me to be more present with myself.
It wasn’t until some time later I noticed the back pain I would get on a regular basis wasn’t so regular anymore; in fact, I can’t remember the last time I had that constant dull ache or lower back spasm after a day of walking around or sitting in a chair too long.
Through regular yoga asanas, I strengthened the muscles in my lower back that support my spine in addition to the constant lengthening of my spine that comes with many of the poses. The relief yoga has brought to me in this physical way is such a blessing and it is something I pay particular attention to when teaching my private clients, many of whom come to me with back pain.
Below I have outlined some of my favorite poses for dealing with back pain and also for strengthening the muscles around the spine to prevent ongoing pain.
Bridge pose (Setu Bandha Sarvangasana) is excellent for reducing stress in the body and stretching the chest, neck and spine. As it is a backbend it will also help to build strength in the muscles that support the spine. Practiced dynamically by lifting and lowering the pelvis helps warm the spine in preparation for a longer hold. You could also place a block or bolster under the sacrum to support the pelvis for a more restorative pose.
Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana) offers relief from headaches and back pain and calms the brain and energizes the body. It is excellent for stretching and lengthening the spine as well as the shoulders, hamstrings, calves, arches, and hands.
Child’s pose (Balasana) is a restorative posture that provides instant relief from tension by gently stretching the hips, thighs, and ankles. By placing a bolster under the head or in between the torso, it can be very healing for an aching back.
Cat/Cow (marjariasana) is a simple movement for revitalizing the spine. Multiple repetitions combining fluid movement and breath help to warm the spine.
A Supine Twist is a rejuvenating way to start or end the day and is a fantastic way to ease lower back pain through lengthening and stretching the spine.
Seeking professional help
Whilst these tips and remedies are a wonderful way to deal with back pain and in many cases, prevent it in the first place, they should not replace the skills and services of a medical professional. Alternative therapists are a great place to start, however, if your pain persists or becomes acute in nature, you should always refer your problem to your health care professional for further investigation.
About Jessica Beasley
After spending eight years in the corporate world as a communications professional Jessica relocated from Sydney, Australia to the NSW South Coast where she now runs her company, Thoroughly Nourished. As a Certified Holistic Health & Nutrition Coach and YogaWorks certified Yoga Teacher she supports clients one on one and is passionate about helping them make gradual changes to their lives as part of their journey to good health. She works with busy professionals to incorporate healthier options and more home-cooked foods into their lives. She is also passionate about helping people struggling with their weight achieve long-term weight loss without going on a diet or partaking in a ruthless exercise regimen. Jessica travels back to Sydney frequently and services clients in Sydney, on the NSW South Coast and the USA (via Skype).