I have been an osteopath for 15 years and a yoga teacher for 20, and I've treated hundreds of patients with back pain.
The longer I've worked with back pain, the simpler it becomes. It is no longer the complicated web of inexplicable, unpredictable pain. It is a straightforward beast, with only so many options available to it for its expression.
Please trust me when I say this: You do not have to live with back pain. It is just simple anatomy.
There are only so many structures in your back that can cause pain, and they are the same in everyone. While the underlying cause for the pain may vary, the anatomical structures and tissues remain the same in every body — reacting the same way, responding to good or bad influences.
Pain is simply an indication that proper body function has been interrupted. Once we can pinpoint which structures of the back are hurting, we can begin to understand why they are hurting, and then make the corrections necessary to restore proper function. That's when the pain will stop.
A muscle hurts for a reason. We correct that reason and it stops hurting. It's actually quite simple.
I've also noticed there are patterns to the causes of back pain, and the varying ways that tissue responds. And after many years of experimenting, I have come to this definitive conclusion: Yoga is the answer to resolving back pain.
Let me explain.
The majority of all back pain is muscular, meaning that the muscles are the source of the pain. And since the muscles are in pain for a reason, you have to get to the root cause of the problem. So why are your muscles in pain?
Muscles hurt if they're being overused, and overused muscles become tight. Pain is basically the muscle's way of trying to get your attention and alert you to the fact that something is wrong. Again, simply put, if you take the strain off a muscle, it will stop hurting.
But why are your muscles being overused?
Here are my four typical answers:
1. When other muscles are being lazy and not doing any work at all, this leaves the dominant muscles doing all the work and overcompensating. This is commonly known as a lack of core stability, resulting in muscle imbalance.
2. Poor posture. Enough said.
3. Bad mattress or pillow. You spend eight hours out of every 24 on it so trust me, it matters what you sleep on.
4. Stress! There is a direct correlation between stress and muscle tension. In my experience, people are either “ear-huggers” or "bum-clenchers" in response to stress. So you either get neck and shoulder pain, or low back and leg pain.
This is just a small list because all causes of back pain that you can come up with, will fall under those four answers.
Typical examples of back pain:
- Postpartum back pain: Childbirth diminishes core stability, resulting in a long-term muscle imbalance.
- Post-operative back pain: Certain operations can knock out core stability, resulting in a muscle imbalance.
- Arthritis: The muscle around the arthritic joint tighten to stabilize the joint, resulting in muscle imbalance.
So why is yoga the cure?
Practiced in a safe manner, yoga addresses these four major causes of muscular back pain:
1. It re-establishes core stability, thereby allowing the overused, painful muscles to relax.
2. It stretches and strengthens muscles in a balanced way, restoring normal overall function.
3. It trains you to hold correct posture with an engaged core.
4. It trains you to relax and reduce your stress levels.
A strong muscle will not hurt, it has the ability to contract and relax. Muscles only hurt when they are overworked, become tight, lose the ability to relax and eventually, fatigue. When muscles are rebalanced, they will eventually stop hurting.
Even if you've suffered from a disc injury or arthritis, the majority of the back pain experienced is simply the back muscles spasming in an effort to stabilize your spine. Rebalancing the back muscles and building strength will protect the underlying issue and reduce your back pain dramatically.
You don't have to be a victim of back pain. Just roll out your yoga mat once a day for six weeks to start, and watch the re-balancing of your body begin to take shape. In my experience, this is all that it takes to see results. Be patient with your muscles, as they need some time to re-train and learn new habits.
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