Lower back pain is a widespread problem and is estimated to affect about 31 million Americans at any given time. An increase in associated absenteeism and a reduction in overall productivity can come at a great cost to companies.

The cause, severity, and nature of lower back pain can vary widely, as can the complexity of the issue. Mechanical issues and soft tissue injuries are the most common causes of lower back pain.

Lower back pain is a common complaint in the workplace. This may particularly impact office workers who spent long periods of time in a sedentary position. Workers who are required to lift heavy loads, or perform repetitive tasks, may also be more likely to experience lower back pain, especially if ergonomic factors haven't been fully considered or implemented.

The good news is that there are a number of ways to reduce the severity of lower back pain, and potentially even eliminate it altogether. A plan for the rehabilitation or management of lower back pain will vary from person to person. It should also be carried out under the advice of a health professional.

How yoga can play a role in the management of lower back pain

Yoga is one modality to consider as part of an overall plan for managing back pain. It can be particularly effective for office workers who are experiencing pain simply as a result of spending extended periods in a seated position.

In this situation, it's common for certain muscles to become tighter and weaker over time. Some yoga postures may help to correct these muscle imbalances. It's important that the postures are carried out safely and correctly as one part of an appropriate program. Yoga therapy can be considered as an option to create an individualized plan centred on self-healing.

Yoga can help to ease lower back pain by:

  • Stretching and strengthening muscles that support the spine. The goal is to create a better range of motion and stability around the joints and to improve overall posture.
  • Stretching and strengthening muscles that may be causing referred pain in the lower back. Just because the lower back is producing the pain symptoms, it doesn't necessarily mean it's the cause of the pain.
  • Eliciting a relaxation response. The cause of lower back pain can often include a component of stress. Yoga involves a strong focus on the breath. This can help create a shift towards the parasympathetic nervous system, which is also known as the 'rest and digest' system

Specific yoga poses that may help to relieve back pain

Lower back pain can be a complex issue that requires a personalized approach. However, there are some yoga postures that can be used in the general treatment of lower back pain. Always check with a professional if you are unsure whether they're right for you.

Breathe slowly and calmly throughout the following postures. Never hold your breath. Ease the posture back, or fully release out of it if you feel pain or an inability to relax into it.

The repetitions or posture durations below are a basic guide only. They should be adjusted to match individual requirements. In general, they are targeted at the beginner level of yoga practitioner, such as someone who is looking to incorporate yoga into their routine as a way to try to mitigate back pain.

1. Cat and Cow

Place your hands and knees on the floor, so you create a "box" position. Hands should be shoulder distance apart and knees slightly apart, directly under the hips. Tuck your tail bone underneath, round through the spine and drop your chin towards your chest. Then, slowly release and move in the opposite direction by letting the stomach drop down and lifting the chin up. Repeat 10 times.

Cat and cow posture can be helpful to increase mobility in the lower back and may help to improve pain levels if they are originating there.

2. Sphinx

Lie on your stomach with legs extended and slightly apart. Gently prop yourself up onto your forearms. Lift your chin slowly and draw your shoulders back and down. Lightly engage your abdominals, lower back muscles and the muscles in your lower body. Breathe freely and hold the posture for 30 seconds, then release down to the ground and relax for 15 seconds. Repeat three times.

Sphinx pose can help to strengthen the spine and buttocks whilst stretching the front of the body. It may be a useful counter posture for those who spend long periods of time in a seated position.

3. Bridge

Lie on your back on the ground with your knees bent and feet and knees hip-distance apart. Extend your arms down by your sides. Slowly raise your hips up off the ground, squeezing the buttocks as you do so. Lift as high as you can without arching your back. Hold the position at the top for 30 seconds. Your weight should be distributed between your feet and the back of your shoulders (not your neck). Release down slowly and hug your knees into your chest as a counterpose. Repeat two times.

Bridge pose can effectively work the muscles along the back of the body and release muscles along the front of the body. Like the sphinx pose, it can be a useful counter posture for people who spend long periods of time sitting.

4. Gentle spinal twist

Lie on your back with both knees bent, feet on the floor and arms extended out to the sides. Gently let the knees drop over to one side whilst keeping your shoulders on the floor. Hold for 30 seconds and then repeat on the other side.

Twisting is one of the primal movement patterns of the body. Due to several factors, it's a movement that can often lead to injury. The gentle spinal twist can help improve mobility in the lower back, which may ease pain in this area of the body and decrease the potential for injury.

A new tool in your pain management arsenal

These basic postures offer an introduction to using yoga as part of an overall plan for treating and managing back pain. Always follow personalized advice from your health professional, especially if you have injuries or medical conditions.