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  • Brixton Therapy Centre

Yoga: It’s Not Always Good For Your Back

‘I thought yoga was supposed to be good for back pain, but I’ve just finished my practice and I’m in agony, can you help?’ - this client was not alone in thinking that yoga could have been a solution to her back pain. 

As she found out, it’s not always the case. 

Happily, I was able to help her with some osteopathic treatment to reduce her pain and get to the root of the problem but I think it’s important to spread the word, to help others from falling into the same trap of thinking that yoga is a cure-all for all kinds of back pain. 

So, I have put together this article to help clarify the situation with doing yoga when you have existing back problems, when yoga might exacerbate or even be the cause of back problems, and what you can do to help ensure that you can still get the health benefits of regular yoga practice without risking injury. 

What are the Benefits of Yoga?

It would be unfair to the practice of yoga to simply have an article denying its effectiveness regarding health and well-being. Including supporting back health. 

The gentle stretching and strengthening that yoga provides those who practise safely, within any constraints they have personally, and with expert supervision is an excellent way to keep your whole body including your back healthy. 

The benefits include:

  • Improved circulation - which aids the body’s ability to heal. 

  • Increased muscle strength.

  • Better balance and coordination. 

  • Boosts mood. 

  • Aids relaxation. 

  • Prevents bone loss.

  • Stimulates the brain.

  • Reduced inflammation. 

  • Pain relief. 

Indeed, as we have said yoga is commonly included in lists of recommendations for ways to help with back pain. 

Common Recommendations For Back Pain

Several things are commonly recommended as a good way to help back pain; keeping active including continuing with usual activities, walking, swimming and yoga, limiting rest, using cold and heat therapies and taking pain relief; specifically ibuprofen or other anti-inflammatories. 

While this is in many cases great advice, for some it can potentially exacerbate or mask problems and increase pain. 

This is because these recommendations don’t take into account the root cause of back pain. This is what we do in osteopathic treatments; we look at the whole body and find the source of the pain and problems then we structure treatment around that. It’s not guesswork, unlike the commonly dished-out recommendations above. 

Listen To Your Body

One of the main reasons why yoga might pose a problem is because of the awful 80’s proverb; ‘no pain, no gain’. It’s my opinion that this saying should be relegated to the annals of history like other 80’s relics; backcombing, hairspray and smoking indoors (or at all). 

I believe that this saying has led many people to believe that, when exercising in particular, pain is not only a necessary but a positive outcome. 

It’s not. 

Pain is an indicator that something is wrong. 

Pain is your body’s way of communicating with you. 

And you should listen to it!

When doing any exercise including yoga you could feel challenged and stretched but you should not be in pain. 


So let's debunk the no pain no gain myth once and for all!

If you are experiencing back pain - get seen by a professional - consider seeing an Osteopath - like one of our team here at Brixton Therapy Centre if you are in the South London area. 

Don’t carry on thinking that somehow the pain is good. 

It’s more likely to be telling you to take it a bit easier, to go slower, to look at your form, or to rest. 

What’s more, It might indicate something is seriously wrong and needs professional attention. 

When to Avoid Doing Yoga 

Although the movement and stretching that yoga involves can help to alleviate some, or even most back pain, there are some back injuries and conditions that mean that you should stay away from the yoga mat, at least for a while until your body has had a chance to heal. 

These include herniated (slipped) discs and any kind of spinal fractures. 

If you have other ongoing issues, back injuries or other injuries elsewhere in your body such as your neck, shoulders or knees it is always worth getting professional advice about whether yoga is going to help or hinder your healing and what type of yoga would be most beneficial. 

How to Prevent Injuries While Practising Yoga

Yoga can be gentle, however, there are many different types of yoga and not all of them are gentle. 

Follow these tips to help you practise yoga in the safest way possible for you. 

  • Do yoga with a qualified instructor. 

  • Always inform your instructor about any pre-existing conditions, injuries or pain you are experiencing.

  • Listen to your body, as I mentioned above, pain is a message from your body - heed it and don’t push yourself further than what feels right. 

  • Concentrate on your form rather than keeping up - getting yoga poses wrong even slightly can completely alter the way they affect your body and can cause injuries and/or pain. 

  • If you are in a class, ask the instructor to check your form. If you are at home use a mirror. 

  • Take it slowly -  go at a comfortable pace - you are more likely to get the form wrong if you are rushing. 

  • Make use of equipment such as blocks to make poses more comfortable and suitable for you. 

  • Although yoga can be slow and gentle it CAN put a lot of strain on your body - allow proper rest periods between sessions this is likely to mean NOT doing yoga every day especially if you are not used to it. 

  • If you aren’t used to doing yoga, or other exercise, consider visiting an osteopath before you begin - osteopathy is a great way to prevent injury and pain. 

Which Yoga Poses to Avoid With Back Pain

  • Bow pose - this intense pose can easily overstretch sensitive backs.

  • Boat pose - for those without a strong core this can put excess pressure on the back.

  • Upward facing dog - this is an excellent pose for stretching the back however it is very easy to get it wrong and cause problems, particularly for existing issues.

  • Camel pose and particularly its variations can put excess stress on the neck and back.

  • Crescent lunge twist - especially for those with a weakened core these types of twists often end up putting a lot of pressure on the discs instead of using the abdominal muscles. 

What to Do Instead of Yoga When You Have Back Pain

Quite simply, if you are experiencing back pain - make an appointment to see an osteopath as soon as possible. 

We begin with a full diagnostic assessment where you will be asked questions as well as receive a physical examination. This will likely include palpation - where the osteopath physically assesses the body for musculoskeletal and soft tissue problems. 

A course of treatment will then be suggested which will consist of a range of stretching, manipulation and massage techniques to bring the whole body into alignment and enhance the body’s natural healing processes. If you want to know whether your pain and/or injuries will be helped or hindered by yoga, your osteopath will be glad to advise you during your appointment.  

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