Chronic back pain and yoga

Chronic back pain and yoga

John was experiencing pain in a number of postures in his Bikram Yoga class and wanted to know what was and wasn’t suitable for an ongoing problem in his back.  He had been seeing a musculoskeletal physiotherapist for persistent back pain that he attributed to twenty years of high-level sport and physical work.  John’s physiotherapist considered that John could benefit from an outside perspective on his yoga practice so that he could practice safely and in the most beneficial way for his body.
Yoga can help with chronic back pain by relaxing muscles, building strength and enhancing proprioception.  But someone who has suffered an injury or is in a state of persistent pain may not have the flexibility or muscle tone to perform a posture the traditional way. The emotional distress caused by their condition may impact their ability to practice safely, and their body may suffer a stress response if they go past the range of movement that feels safe for them.

John’s body wasn’t ready for the very specifically-designed postures of Bikram Yoga and we needed to find a way for him to recognise and be comfortable with his own limitations.

After introducing John to full-body awareness and the possibility of moving with gentleness and effortlessness, we found that John could do variations of the postures that had been troubling him so as to work within appropriate physical limits.  He reported that he would be able to “listen to his back” during his Bikram Yoga class.

In a followup, John said he had practiced Bikram Yoga without feeling the normal twinge in his back.  “I feel better than ever”, he said.

When we introduce yoga to those suffering from chronic back pain in a particular way, we invite them to work within their limits, without stressing their body. By listening to their body, chronic pain sufferers can gently but confidently increase their activity and range of movement.  The positive impact for their emotional wellbeing, when they realise they can use their body healthily and vibrantly, radiates out to other aspects of their lives.

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