Yoga for Back Pain

By Sally Ann Quirke, Chartered Physiotherapist | Filed under: Fitness and Back Pain


Yoga for Back Pain
Is Yoga good for Back Pain?

Is Yoga good for back pain?” or “Does Yoga for Back Pain Relief really work?”

The answer is yes - but only if the correct yoga exercises are advised. Let me explain more.

Too often, I see patients who have joined yoga classes and their back pain symptoms have become worse. This is because they have been doing ten exercises which are beneficial to their back pain but five others which have not been suitable for their condition!

You may ask so how do I know which exercises are suitable and which are not?

The answer depends on the type of back pain with which you suffer from. Depending on the cause of your back pain - some exercises will benefit you and others may potentially worsen your already painful back. Again I refer to the importance of a correct diagnosis necessary to facilitate an effective rehabilitation.

An example could be where you have a flexion injury to your back which means the movement of the spine bending forwards increases your pain. More often than not, large yoga movements involving this movement pattern will worsen your back pain. However if smaller flexion movements are performed followed by larger extension movements your back pain may well improve.

So, unless you and your yoga instructor know this, the chances of the appropriate sequence of exercises being performed in a class or individual setting cannot be guaranteed. This is similar to Pilates which I teach on a daily basis (find out more about the difference between Yoga and Pilates). However, I refuse to teach anybody Pilates unless I have thoroughly assessed their back and neck so that I can advise them on the sequence of exercising I need them to follow to avoid aggravation and to facilitate pain reduction.

If your back pain is purely postural-related then Yoga and Pilates without specific sequencing will often be effective.

Many people suffer from tension and pain in the back due to lack of good posture. These conditions are variable and relate to the condition of the curves in your spine and the muscles supporting your spine over long periods of time. There are many kinds of postural back pain.

Common examples include:

  • Mild to severe pain in your upper back (your thoracic spine) and
  • Mild to severe pain in your lower back\ (your lumbar spine).

You might also suffer mild to severe stiffness and restriction in movement of either or both your upper and lower back.

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Caution is warranted

As with all neck and back pain conditions it’s important to assess the cause of your back pain. Seek professional diagnosis. Once no structural problems are diagnosed, postural pain can be treated with Yoga and Pilates effectively. While yoga and Pilates can assist in the rehabilitation and healing of damaged discs the incorrect practice of yoga and Pilates could worsen your pain and condition.

Examples of poor postures include:

  1. An excessive lumbar lordosis where the curve in your lower back is relatively too deep.
  2. An excessive thoracic Kyphosis where the curve in your middle back is relatively too big.
  3. Scoliosis where there is a deviation in the spine causing it to be “S-shaped” somewhere along its course.

To summarise, like all forms of back care management, Yoga taught and performed effectively can enhance and help cure your back pain - but when taught or performed inappropriately it can cause more harm than good. Research the teacher and the condition before embarking on a Yoga programme.


While the content and materials contained in the articles on this website have been written & researched by Sally Ann Quirke, a professional, practising & fully qualified Chartered Physiotherapist (Physical Therapist) based in Ireland, they are provided for general information and educational purposes only. They do not constitute medical advice on any particular individual situation. Please see your Chartered Physiotherapist or other medical practitioner for full and individual consultation.

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