FITNESS
Sunday, October 10, 2010 11:36 pm

YOGA'S GOT YOUR BACK

Relieve back pain with the right asanas.

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Back pain affects 50-80% of people in the U.S. at some point in their lives, according to the Arthritis Foundation. Each year Americans spend an estimated $24 billion on back pain treatments. Unfortunately, expensive drug therapies and surgery do not always fix the problem or alleviate pain. The result? Back pain sufferers experiment with alternative approaches, some good and others not so, before moving on to more drastic and invasive measures. Yoga is one option that is definitely worth trying. In a clinical trial on the effectiveness of Iyengar yoga on chronic low back pain, the yoga group had significantly greater reductions in functional disability, pain and depression at weeks 12 and 24 and at the 6-month follow-up than the control group who used standard medical care.
People suffering from acute back pain and muscle spasms are advised to rest, relax and use breathing exercises before starting a yoga routine. Once out of acute pain, they should start with individual yoga instruction or a small-group class specifically focused on relieving back pain. Large classes may move too rapidly and have advanced poses contraindicated for this condition.

An effective way to relieve back pain is to strengthen the muscles of the core, which include the abdominals (rectus abdominus, internal and external obliques, transverse abdominus), pelvic floor muscles, erector spinae and multifidus (back muscles that run along the spine and between the vertebrae), as well as hip flexors and gluteal muscles.  People often mistakenly over-work their abdominals and ignore their back muscles, most likely due to fear of causing more injury to the area. Unfortunately, this exacerbates the problem due to the imbalance it creates in the body. Also remember to include flexibility exercises for muscles in the hips, gluteals and legs. Tight muscles in these areas can pull on the pelvis, placing additional stress on the lower back. 

Here are a few yoga poses that accomplish the above. Poses not suitable for people with back pain are deep twists (especially if you have herniated discs ), advanced back bends and a seated/standing forward fold with straight legs. Those with back pain should not round their backs either when doing any forward folds.

Read more great fitness tips in the September/October 2010 issue of SOBeFiT Magazine.

Supta Padangusthasana:
1. Lie supine on the floor with legs outstretched. Hug right knee into chest.
2. Place a yoga strap around the ball of the right foot. Holding the ends of the strap, straighten the right leg up toward the ceiling. Keep right foot flexed and both hips on the floor. Hold for 5-10 breaths.
3. Take the right leg out to the right to stretch the inner thigh. Do not let the left hip lift off the floor. Hold 5-10 breaths.
4. Move right leg across the body to the left stretching the outer thigh. Do not allow the right hip to lift off the floor. Hold 5-10 breaths. Repeat the sequence on the left side.
 
Bridge with Yoga Block
1. Lie on back with knees bent and feet flat on the floor, about hip-width apart. Lift hips, placing the yoga block under your hips (not low back). The block should be in the same direction as spine, not perpendicular to it.
2. Place hips on the block, and gently walk feet wide. Let knees drop in towards one another and hold for 5-10 breaths. This will take pressure off the sacroiliac area.
3. Now bring feet and knees together, and slowly lift feet off the floor to bring knees directly over hips. Hold for a couple minutes with legs suspended in the air, releasing hip muscles and providing traction for the vertebrae in the low back.
4. Slowly place feet back on the floor and return to the first variation (feet wide on the floor, knees together) for a few more breaths. To release, lift hips off the block and remove it to the side. Slowly roll down the spine.

Locust Salabhasana
While this pose is not appropriate for those in the acute stage of back pain or for those who have herniated discs, it is a great pose to strengthen the muscles of the back, glutes and hamstrings once the area has been stabilized. These muscles are often weak in people with back pain.
1. Lie on stomach with arms along sides, palms facing up, and forehead on the floor. Turn toes toward each other to inwardly rotate your thighs, and engage your gluteal muscles. Keep pelvic bone pressing gently towards the floor during this exercise to decompress the lower back.
2. Lift head, upper torso, arms and legs away from the floor. Only your lower ribs, stomach and pelvis will be in contact with the floor. Extend through your legs and reach long through your fingertips.
3. Roll shoulders back and draw your scapula together. Gaze forward and keep the back of your neck long. Hold for 30 seconds to 1 minute, then slowly release back to the floor.

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