How To Prevent Low Back Injuries and strengthen the core.
Most people suffer from back pain at some time in their life. Back pain is one of the biggest causes of work absences, accounting for more than 12 million days lost every year.
If you ask anyone how they would define yoga, 90% would say that it’s stretching which it is at many levels! However, the way we stretch is what matters most. Particularly if those stretches are to release tightness in our hamstrings which are the long muscles running down the back of our legs.
Many of the people that I teach will often notify me of low back pain when they join a new class. For me, it is essential to find out what that back pain has involved, especially if the injury has related to a bulging disc in the lumbar spine.
Many exercise classes start with leg stretching routines to release stiffness in the hamstrings, caused so often by our increasingly sedentary lifestyle. Unfortunately such sequences can be more damaging than beneficial to lower back issues.
Over many years of teaching, I, by default, can’t help observing posture, gait and how people move. I can also spot a lower back issue from a long way off! This is especially noticeable if the student has tight hamstrings which is identified in a flattened curve around the lower back area and external rotation in the hips. So, whilst yoga is helpful in improving lower back pain, it is very important that it is taught in a way that does not worsen the condition and provides a tool kit to stop it happening in the future.
LET’S EXPLORE THE DISCS….
These clever cushions between the vertebrae of the spine are designed to act as shock absorbers for the brain in the range of activities that the body endures daily. They are a combination of the inner disc that are made of a gel-like substance and the annulus fibrosis which are rings of ligament that support and surround this center.
An individual without low back pain will have a mild forward curve in their lower back. This helps to evenly distribute the weight through the discs and spinal column. When we bend forward (spinal flexion) naturally more weight is on the front of the discs. This pushes the gel-like disc backwards into ligaments that are now being stretched.
Forcing stretches with straight legs naturally weakens the supporting ligaments. This causes a tear and the gel-like inner disc then leaks out causing a herniated disc. Anyone who has experienced this knows how unbelievably painful it is, particularly when it presses on a nearby nerve.
We know that heavy lifting is a killer for lower backs, but so can repetitive forward bends mainly because half our body weight is above our waist! Our lifestyles are not that conducive to healthy lower backs. We sit for unsuitably long periods with poor posture, we lift small children, move heavy furniture, carry shopping and decide that the garden needs total clearance in a weekend and wonder why our backs give out!
OUR YOGA PRACTICE
In our yoga practice we work on all our muscle groups and our ranges of movements, twists, back arches, forward bends and lateral extension that focus on how to prevent low back injuries. We avoid working specifically on one set of muscles. Instead, we lengthen and contract the muscle groups accordingly.
We aim to strengthen the inner and outer core muscles. Watch out for ‘washboard status’ as that affects pelvic tilt, tucking the tailbone and losing the lower back’s natural curve! We tone the glutes to bring stability through the back of the body. We work on lengthening the hamstrings together with the hip flexors whilst releasing stiffness and discomfort in the shoulders and hips.
The video and slideshow below demonstrate how to prevent low back injuries so when these sequences are practiced regularly, the chances of injuring lower back are significantly reduced.