A few weeks ago I strained my lower back. It may surprise you because yes, I am a yoga therapist specialised in back pain. In fact, I wouldn’t have specialised in yoga for back pain if I didn’t know what back pain is like. I probably demonstrated a pose too quickly and without proper warm-up and the next day a painful tightness gripped the lower part of my spine and hindered fluid movements. It didn’t feel like something that could easily be stretched out. When you strain your lower back, part of the healing will just involve time. However, there are several things you can try to prevent it from getting worse. In this blog I discuss the three measures I took to ease lower back strain within a few days.
- Avoid movements that hurt
When I strained my lower back, I had to avoid backbends in my yoga practice, but I also avoided certain daily movements that are taxing for the back. Especially when your back hurts it is important to be more careful with lifting, sitting for long stretches at a time, bending forward, etc. All the frequent daily movements that may hurt your back are discussed in my free “Keep Your Back Safe At Home Guide”. If you don’t have it yet, do subscribe to this blog and you will receive all the tips in your inbox.
Allowing your back to heal may also require a few temporary sacrifices, such as not going for a run this week or cancelling the tennis match you had planned.
- Keep your lower back warm
Muscles relax when they are warm, so unless there is obvious inflammation, it is important to keep the painful area warm. For the lower back, I personally like a scarf or hot water bottle, but there are of course also some more modern ways, various ‘heat packs’ to keep the lower back warm.
- Do small releasing movements at least once a day.
In terms of yoga, many small releasing movements can help ease lower back strain and tightness. It is essential to avoid anything that increases the pain, so unless they hurt, try some of the following exercises once or twice a day.
Because back pain can also be caused or aggravated by stress, do take time to do these movements slowly and mindfully. The rest position at the end, in which you allow your mind to purely focus on the breath, is very important too.
Hugging one knee
-Hold one knee in a relaxed way towards the chest while the other leg is extended on the floor.
-Roll your head from side to side slowly, with the breath: exhaling while you roll the head to one side and inhaling to bring it back to centre.
Pelvic tilt and Circle
-Lying on the back with the legs bent and feet on the floor, exhale and put weight on the feet to lower the back of the waist on the floor. Inhale and release. Repeat 8-10x times.
-Now change the tilting movement of the hips to a circular one: imagine a clock on the lowest part of your back. Shift the weight of the pelvis around the numbers of the clock, first clockwise and the anti-clockwise 4-6x. It is only a small movement so you don’t lift the hips off the floor.
(Avoid the positions below when you suspect a herniated disc, e.g. when the pain is excruciating or when you have shooting pain down your leg. If this is the case, simply rest in the most comfortable position, either with the legs extended or bent.)
-Place one hand on each knee and bring both knees a little closer to the chest when you exhale. Make sure not to lift the lower back off the floor.
-Inhale and bring the knees further away form you, with the arms extended. Repeat for about a minute.
-Lie on the back with the arms extended to the side, the feet together on the floor and the knees together.
-Exhale and lower the knees halfway to one side. The head looks away from the knees.
-Inhale the knees to the centre and exhale them to the other side.
-Keep this a gentle movement without forcing the knees down.
-Starting on hands and knees, first move back and forth between all fours and the child position: exhale to the child and inhale to all fours. Repeat 5-7x
-Stay in the child for a few breaths. Place the elbows on the floor to keep the shoulders relaxed. The hands can also point back towards the feet if that is more comfortable. Alternatives to the child position are explained in this blog.
If it is comfortable, rest with your legs on a chair, bent 90 degrees, maybe with a cushion under your head.
-Alternatively, lie on your back with the legs bent.
-Place your hands are on the abdomen and simply observe the movement underneath your hands when you breathe. Give your mind and body at least 5 minutes rest in this way.
Finally, to keep the lower back stronger and less prone to strains, it is important to keep the abdominal muscles strong. How to do this with a painful back is the subject of my 5 video sessions. Try the first one for free here