Sarah Fretwell

Yoga, Movement, Mobility, Wellness

Essential sequence for lower back pain

Yoga, MovementSarah FretwellComment

Lower back pain is such a huge thing for a lot of people, and I get many students asking me what poses I recommend to help ease their lower back tension. I have also experienced it myself, so I know just how de-motivating and challenging it can be. 

There are many causes of lower back pain, but the most frequent are usually bad posture, long periods of sitting at work, lack of core strength, tight hips and tight hamstrings. 

I've created a little yoga sequence that you can practise ideally 3-4 times a week, which may help you with general, overall lower-back pain. Practise it regularly, and I truly think that you can keep your hips, hamstrings and lower back healthy and safe!

This sequence isn't for long-term, terrible back pain (I highly recommend you visit a physician for this!) but it can definitely help with short-term back pain. 

THE POSES

1. Reclined hamstring stretch

If the hamstrings are tight or tense, your pelvis and lower back will likely be in tension too. Therefore, it's essential to work hamstring stretches into your practise in order to help keep lower back tension and discomfort at bay. Lie on your back, and grab a strap (or anything that you can hook around your foot!). Hook the strap around the underneath of your right foot, and hold on to the other side. Gently start to pull your leg towards you, keeping your foot flexed (toes pointing down, heel up). Hold for 10 deep breaths, then repeat on the other side. 

2. Reclined adductor stretch (inner leg)

Just like the hamstrings, if the adductors are excessively tight on the inside of the leg, they will likely start to draw your pelvis out of alignment and create tension in your lower back. Moving on from the previous pose, strap in hand, start to open your right leg out towards the right as far as you can go without lifting your left hip up off the floor. The goal here is to keep that left hip - and therefore the pelvis - stable and still and stretch just the adductor muscles inside the right leg. Hold it here for a minute or so, then switch sides. 

3. Lying twist

Lying twists are actually great hip openers, and excessively tight hips can sometimes cause lower back pain. The pelvis, lower back and hips are all connected, so if the hips are overly tight, they can pull the pelvis out of alignment, resulting in a less than happy lower back. Lying on your back, draw your right knee into your chest and hold on to the knee with your left hand start to roll over towards your left. Keep your left leg straight. If the knee isn't able to reach the ground comfortably, just grab a cushion and prop it underneath the knee. Reach your right arm out towards the right, taking your spine into a twist, and look over your right hand. Stay here for 1-2 minutes before switching over on to the other side. 

4. Downward Dog 

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Downward dog helps to lengthen your spine, which can help alleviate lower back pain. Start on all fours, hands under shoulders and knees hips width apart. Relax your neck and look towards the floor. Lift the knees off the floor and push the floor away from you with your hands, drawing your hips up to the ceiling. Think hips up, heels down, neck relaxed, fingers and toes spread wide. Try to get your spine as long as possible by really pushing the floor away from you and completely relaxing your neck, keeping your gaze towards your feet at all times. Stay here for 1 minute if you can, then come down on to hands and knees and sink the hips back into child's pose. 

5. Plank 

Strengthening the core is essential to protect the lower back. A strong upper body is so important, especially as we age, and since the core is responsible for holding up the spine and keeping our posture in check, it's only right that I include some core exercises!

Start in downward dog, and then roll forwards into a plank. Come far forwards on to your toes and the ball of your feet, so that your shoulders move slightly over your wrists. Notice if your belly is dipping down and your lower back is arched. Think "up" with your spine and slightly round your spine if anything. This will kick the core into action and require the muscles around the core to switch on in order to keep the spine lifted and slightly rounded. Keep your neck long, imagining a straight line from your upper spine and shoulders to your head - look just in front of your hands and slightly down. Hold for 1 minute if you can!

6. Sphinx

Sphinx is a gentle backbend, but can be quite tricky for people with an excessively tight lower spine. Start lying on your stomach, hands several inches in front of your shoulders and shoulder width apart, forearms on the floor. Bring the feet closer together. Press the forearms into the floor and gently curl up, like a snake, drawing your shoulder blades together. Look slightly in front of your hands and down to allow your neck to relax. You should feel a nice stretch across your belly. This pose is extending your spine, and most people make the mistake of sinking their belly heavily into the floor which creates a huge arch in the spine. Try to keep a gentle "lift" of the pelvis and hips instead, so that you maintain control of your lower back. Sometimes it is nice to place a bolster under your top ribs and in front of your stomach, to help maintain the lift. 

7. Seated ankle to knee pose

A great hip opening pose, which is essential for re-aligning the pelvis and stabilising the lower back. You'll need a block for this one, or two stacked cushions. Start sitting down on your mat and take your right ankle, bringing it over your left knee, and place it on the stacked pillows or tall block. Take your hands behind you and come on to the fingertips, lifting your spine up nice and tall. Keep your right ankle flexed and the toes active. Hold for up to 2 minutes then switch sides. 

If this is too much for your hips, try it lying down instead. Lie on your back and cross your right ankle over your left knee. Relax your head to the floor, and take your hands to your right hip, gently pushing the hip away from you to encourage your right knee to open out to the right. It's important to keep the right ankle flexed (active toes) to protect your knee. Hold it here for up to a minute or more, then switch sides. 

8. Child's pose

This one is a little variation on child's pose that I love to practise, as it helps open up the side body as well as stretch the lower back. Start on all fours and sink your hips down to your heels. Relax your neck and bring your arms behind you, alongside of your legs, forehead to the floor. Widen your knees as wide or wider than hips width to allow your lower back to relax. Stay here for as long as you need to, feeling the gentle stretch across your lower back. To add in the side stretches, walk your hands over to the right, bringing your left hand slightly in front of your right to intensify the stretch. After a minute here, walk your hands over to the left and take the other side. 

Final thoughts

1. Focus on your core. Add in some core drills like plank holds each day, but definitely film yourself to make sure you are in alignment. 
2. Add in hip and hamstring stretches. If you have excessive tension or tightness going on in your legs and hips, this needs to be addressed first so that the pelvis is in its right position.
3. Breathe slowly and deeply. Breathing properly helps relax the nervous system and helps to lengthen the spine in all poses. 
4. Take a look at your posture. If you are still getting lower back pain despite practising this sequence, take a look at your posture while you're at work. Is there any way you can prop your spine up with a firm pillow to keep yourself from slouching? Or better yet, can you spend some time sitting cross-legged or buy a standing desk?
5. Consistency. Make sure to practise this sequence more times during the week than not.  

Let me know how you get on in the comments below! xxx