The first week of October is National Back Care Awareness Week. The South African Society of Physiotherapists dedicates this week to educate the public on the common causes, risks, complications and prevention of lower back pain.
So what causes back pain?
Back pain is caused by several conditions: arthritis that affects the lower back and spinal cord, osteoporosis (your spine’s vertebrae become brittle), or even muscle and ligament strain caused by repeatedly lifting heavy objects.
Women’s Health managing and food editor Amy Hopkins is also a yoga instructor, so we asked her to weigh in on a few yoga moves that can help with your back pain. Yoga is a popular workout for your rest days or for when you want to stretch or strengthen your muscles.
Start by releasing tension along the spine with a series of Cat and Cow postures. Begin in a Table Top position, hands beneath shoulders, knees beneath hips, on a mat or carpeted surface, fingers spread wide, tops of feet pressed into the mat. Do this slowly, five times each move for a total of 10 long breaths. These stretches bring flexibility into the spine and are great for stretching the back, hips and abdomen. They’re good for relieving lower back pain and sciatica (lower back into hips and butt).
The Cow Posture
- Inhale as you lift your forehead and eyes to gaze up towards the ceiling.
- Drop the belly as you curl your spine, as if you have a Pilates ball balancing on your back.
- Actively tilting your tailbone upwards will help create the curve.
The Cat Posture
- Exhale as you round the spine (image the ball is beneath you now) and suck your belly button into your spine.
- Press your hands into the mat, creating a lift in your shoulders.
- Drop your head and gaze towards your belly button.
- Actively tip your pelvis forward.
- Come back to a neutral Table Top position to move into the next pose.
Moves for the upper back
Child’s Pose With Side Stretch
- From Table Top position, bring your toes together and spread your knees so that each knee is at the edge of the mat.
- Fold forward over your lap and let your belly hang softly between your thighs, arms stretched out in front of you.
- Actively try reach your bum to meet your heels. This elongates the spine. Stay here for five to 10 breaths.
- Walk your left hand over to just outside the left side of the mat. Place your right hand on top of your left, so you really stretch out the right side of the back and shoulders. Hold for five to 10 breaths.
- Move your hands back through centre, then over to the right side, placing the right hand outside the right side of the mat.
- Place your left hand on top of the right, so you feel a nice stretch along the left side of the back and shoulders. Stay here for five to 10 breaths.
Thread The Needle Pose (good for the whole back)
- From Table Top, inhale to lift your right hand up towards the ceiling; as you exhale, thread the needle: bring the right hand and arm through the ‘hole’ you create on the left side with your left arm and left thigh.
- Bring the arm all the way through so you’re lying on your right shoulder and your right cheek and temple are on the mat. Extend the left hand out in front of you so your arms form perpendicular lines. Stay here for five to 10 breaths.
- Walk your left hand back to underneath the left shoulder; inhale as you push up through the left hand, lifting your right hand back up towards the ceiling. Exhale to place the right hand back on the mat, so you’re in a neutral Table Top position.
- Repeat on the other side, starting by inhaling as you lift your left hand towards the sky, and then thread the needle on the other side. Stay here for five to 10 breaths, then come back to Table Top position.
Moves for the lower back
- Lie on your back, bringing your arms into a T-shape.
- Bring your knees in towards your chest, then slowly release both knees over to the right-hand side.
- Rest your head either facing upwards or looking over your left shoulder.
- Keep both shoulders on the mat and try to keep your knees pressed together. If your top leg lifts up, you can fold a towel and place it between your knees (or use a yoga block).
- Stay here for five to 10 slow breaths. Bring your knees back up to centre and then over to the opposite side. Repeat.
Amy says that because we spend so much time sitting, our lower backs can take a lot of strain. The Sphinx Pose is a counter-pose to sitting and promotes the natural curvature of the spine, relieving back pain.
- Start by lying on your stomach. Feet hip-width apart and with your forearms on the mat, bring your elbows to rest directly beneath your shoulders.
- Be mindful of the pressure on your lower back – if this is too painful, you can shift your elbows slightly forward.
- Hold the pose to five to 10 slow breaths. Release by lying on your belly, right cheek to the mat.
- You can then move into Child’s Pose to finish off.