According to the National Institute for Neurologic Disorders, back pain is the most common cause of missed work days. Back pain is characterized as either acute (lasts between 4-12 weeks) or chronic (symptoms last for more than 12 weeks) and ranges between sudden and debilitating pain to dull, constant throbbing. Causes of back pain can be almost anything, from injury due to accident to infection, disease, chronic stress, ongoing conditions such as sciatica, poor posture or lack of physical fitness.
As iterated in every section, remember you are not a diagnostician, nor are you providing a prescription to cure back pain. You are offering suggestions for students to apply range-of-motion exercises, stress reduction techniques and strategies to increase fitness through yoga.
Yoga fits in to rehabilitation for back pain because the practice can be a gentle activity suitable for post-injury rehab, it can be just the right tool to strengthen the core and increase spinal mobility or it can be a stress reduction tool or even the catalyst for a major lifestyle change. The point is that yoga puts back care in the hands of the patient.
Yoga is a guideline for preventing and healing back pain, but the power lies in the patient’s diligent application of the practice.
For example, if a patient with chronic back pain is directed to get surgery, it’s possible that the prescription for the operation failed to address underlying causes of back pain such as work environment, posture problems or weakness. The point is, with the ubiquity of back pain, there is imprecise diagnosis of the cause of the pain. Furthermore, surgery and other prescriptive solutions may provide a short term solution but fail to address the cause. Surgery may not address the underlying cause of back pain that patients can manage themselves through yoga.
Yoga offers four components to back pain relief:
- Awareness of posture. Examine the way your student stands. If you notice excessive curve in their low back (sway back), suggest they look at photos of themselves standing with varying postures. In this way, your student can self-correct poor posture.
- Subtle engagement of adjacent muscles though asana practice. Guide your student through a series of gentle poses. Instruct in each one that they maintain a strong core and pay attention to alignment.
- Stress reduction through breathing exercises. Many people who suffer from back pain mention that they feel better when they go on vacation or when they finish an intense project at work (McCall, 2007). The correlation between stress and back pain is due to the muscular tension related to psychological stress.
- Lifestyle adjustment. Chronic back pain is the result of years of minor injury and poor posture. Working out without proper warmup or ineffective lifting technique can cause back pain. Similarly, excessive hours spent sitting or standing at work can cause chronic back pain. Students who take the time to question what their priorities are and what aspects of their lives they are willing to change will have success applying yogic principles to the treatment of back pain.
Use your knowledge of yoga and your own respect for the practice to help your students alleviate back pain. Yoga is a powerful tool in the battle against acute or chronic back pain.