Yoga Poses to Prevent Back Pain by Improving Flexibility
Back pain is experienced by millions of people around the world, causing discomfort, increased disability, psychological symptoms, and reduced quality of life. Studies have shown that practicing yoga is likely to help reduce pain and disability and may even help address problems like anxiety and depression.1 In fact, in some settings, yoga can be just as effective as physical therapy.2
This series of four poses was designed to prevent and manage back pain by improving basic spinal flexibility and strengthening the core and spinal support muscles. The series also helps you to become comfortable with the movements that control flexion and extension of the spine.
This combination of poses is short enough that you can practice it regularly even on days when you are short on time. If you already do yoga, add these poses to your routine. If you currently have back pain, be sure to talk to your healthcare provider first to make sure that these exercises are compatible with your condition.1
The cat-cow stretch improves spinal mobility and awareness. You’ll begin the series by coming on to the hands and knees with the wrists underneath the shoulders and the knees underneath the hips.
- Inhale and arch your back (spinal extension). Hug your navel to your spine even though you are dropping your belly. Begin the movement from your tailbone and let it ripple up your spine so that the last motion is your head looking up.
- Exhale and round your spine (spinal flexion). Again, move the navel toward the spine and initiate the movement with your tail. Your head drops as you take your gaze to your belly.
Do 10 cat-cow stretches to warm up the spine.2
Downward Facing Dog
A downward facing dog stretches the hips and hamstrings. It also strengthens your deep core muscles, which stabilizes your lower back. You’ll move into this pose after completing your cat-cow stretches.
- Begin by coming back to a neutral spine.
- Curl your toes under.
- Exhale and straighten your legs to push back to a downward facing dog.
- Bend your knees, coming up onto the balls of your feet. Bring your belly to rest on your thighs and raise your sit bones up high. Then sink your heels, straightening the legs while keeping the high upward rotation of the sit bones.
If you have very tight hamstrings, keep a slight bend in your knees. Hold the pose for five breaths.3
The cobra pose extends and strengthens your back. Extending the spine strengthens the back muscles, the abdominals, and the pelvic muscles. The pose has been included in a yoga routine that was shown in research studies to reduce back pain.3
- Come back to your hands and knees.
- Lower to your belly to the ground in the most comfortable way possible.
- Once you are flat on the floor, place your forehead on your mat and your palms directly under your shoulders with your elbow hugging your sides.
- Inhale and engage the muscles of your lower back and thighs. Press the tops of your feet into the floor and lift your upper chest off the ground. Take your gaze to the floor just in front of your mat to keep your neck long.
- Make sure to keep your shoulders moving away from your ears. Keep little to no weight in your hands so that your back is doing the work. You may not be able to lift up as high, but it will be more beneficial.
- Exhale and lower your forehead back to the floor.
Repeat this motion three to five times.4
The final pose, child’s pose, helps to stabilize the spine. It can be helpful after a backbend like cobra.
- Press into your hands to straighten your arms, lifting the chest off the mat.
- Move through a tabletop position and continue to bend your knees, bringing the hips back to rest on your feet.
- Separate your knees as wide as your mat and let your belly sink down between the knees.
Rest here five to 10 breaths before coming back onto all fours and repeating the entire sequence.