I turned 30 this year. Since my 30th birthday, I’ve been trying to convince my 29-year-old wife that she should start listening to her “wise elder” more often. Although I joke about being an old man, and that my knees and back hurt, the truth is, I have been experiencing what I would describe as “mild spinal discomfort,” for nearly a year. I attribute this discomfort to years of poor posture.
So, a few months ago, I decided to take action and visit a chiropractor. He noted that my lower spine had “mild inward curvature,” but didn’t talk much about the cause of this (despite me asking). Rather, he focused on treatment options available, which of course he could provide for a price. These seemed more like a band-aid for my symptoms, instead of a solution that would address the underlying cause. Disheartened, I decided to use some good ‘ole common sense and take it upon myself to address the issue. I told myself that I would make a conscious effort to work on my posture, get regular massages, and do more yoga. I have since done none of the above (but I did just straighten up in my chair while writing this).
Moving forward, I do intend to stick to these goals. This three-directional approach makes sense to me. Address the probable cause (posture), relieve any stress/tension in the surrounding muscle through massage, and use yoga to help improve posture, flexibility, and core strength.
Yoga alone has been shown in numerous studies to help improve back pain. In fact, over the past few years, I’ve seen many studies suggesting that regular yoga can improve back pain, pain severity, and even reduce the need for pain medication (1-4).
If you suffer from back pain, but the thought of yoga conjures painful images of people balancing on their head or bending over backward, know that these studies used basic beginner yoga techniques focused on postures, breathing, and mindfulness. I should note, however, there were cases in which yoga worsened back pain, but these were limited and the overall trend was toward improvement.
A 2017 Cochrane Review summarized the data and concluded that, “There is low-to moderate-certainty evidence that yoga compared to non-exercise controls results in small to moderate improvements in back-related function.”(5) They do note that “it is uncertain whether there is any difference between yoga and other exercise for back-related function or pain,” however both are likely to improve back pain compared to doing nothing.
Bottom line: The evidence suggests that regular yoga can be a safe and effective way to improve back pain. If there are no yoga studios nearby, or if they’re too expensive, go on YouTube, as there are tons of videos to choose from. If you’re a yoga greenhorn, look for “beginner” options and you’ll do fine!