How Can Yoga Help Your Lower Back and Hips?
Did you know that low back pain affects more people globally than any other disability? (Hoy, et al.)
Did you know that it can be very beneficial to do yoga for the lower back and hips?
If you suffer from low back and/or hip pain, you are not alone. In fact, more than half of the population suffers from low back pain at some point in their lives.
Why is this? What is the cause of low back and hip pain and how can yoga help?
In this article, we’ll go through:
- What Causes Low Back and Hip Pain?
- Low Back Pain and Posture
- Lower Back Tightness and Hip Mobility for Working Out and Athletic Training
- Do Tight Hips Cause Lower Back Pain?
- Benefits of Yoga for Lower Back and Hips
- How to Modify Poses for Low Back and Hip Pain
- Five Poses for Lower Back Pain
- Five Poses for Opening Hips
- Best Body By Yoga Programs for Low Back and Hip Pain
What Causes Low Back and Hip Pain?
There are a variety of reasons that somebody might be experiencing pain in the lower back or hips. Let’s take a look at some of the most common causes of pain in the low back and hips.
Muscle Injuries- Muscles can be easily pulled or torn if you are not careful. A lot of lower back pain can be traced back to pulled muscles. These usually take a few days to a few weeks to heal.
Poor Posture- The majority of people nowadays do not actually have correct posture. This can lead to the natural curve of the spine being flattened or changed. Poor posture can be caused by sitting down a lot, hunching over, etc. If you lead too far forwards, we are putting too much pressure into rounding the back. When we lean too far back, such as when pregnant, the spine can hold pressure in incorrect areas.
Herniated Discs- Between the vertebrae in our spines, we have something called discs. Discs are very spongy and they absorb shock to prevent it from going into the spine. When one has poor posture, or has suffered an injury to the spine, a disc can be pressed out of place. These discs can then bulge or rupture completely, causing pain.
Pinched Nerves- Strain to the nerves can also cause low back pain. One of the most common nerves that can affect the lower back and hips is the sciatica. When the sciatica nerve is compressed or injured, pain can radiate from the lower back, into the hips, and even down into the legs. Herniated discs can put unwanted pressure on the sciatica and other nerves as well.
Low Back Pain and Posture
As you now know, poor posture is one of the leading causes of back pain. With that in mind, it leads us to the question of why so many people have incorrect posture. Why is the number of people with poor posture rising each year?
Sitting Down A Lot- Think about just how many people spend the day sitting down at a desk for work, or sitting in a classroom for school. Now, consider how many of those people sit up tall with proper posture throughout the day. The truth is that when we sit for long periods of time, it is common to begin to round the spine incorrectly, leaning too far forwards. Overtime, the more that the spine is rounded, the more that one’s posture will be thrown off. This can lead to herniated discs, pulled muscles, nerve pain, and so much more!
Staring at Technology- Most people spend a lot of time looking at technology every day. Whether staring at computers, tablets, or down at phones, the majority of people do not realize just how long and often they are hunching over for. As this continues day after day, long-term effects can be seen.
Weak Core Strength- If the core is not strong, the spine winds up taking more pressure. This can lead to rounding the back, forward head posture, an incorrectly arched spine, and much more. Your back compensates for what your core can not handle, and that is where the problem lies. If your spine is taking on too much, you can easily hurt it. This can also cause hip pain due to extra strain in the joints and the lower back.
Lower Back Tightness and Hip Mobility For Working Out and Athletic Training
How does low back tightness and poor hip mobility affect working out and athletics?
When you are exercising, having proper posture and core strength is important. In addition, the more mobile your hips are, the more accessible fitness becomes. The problem is that low back and hip tightness can actually negatively affect your fitness routine.
Tight Lower Back- Certain exercises can actually be unsafe to do when you are suffering from back pain. A tight lower back can make it harder to strength train, especially when it comes to exercises like deadlifting. Tight lower backs can also cause poor posture, forcing you to put strain in the wrong areas when exercising. This can cause incorrect movements and result in injuries.
Weak Core- If you have a lot of tightness in the lower back and hips, and you are not properly using your core, there is a good chance that some of the strengthening exercises you are doing may not have the results that you would like them to. This can also cause more back pain as you use your low back and hips to make up for what the core is not currently doing.
Tight Hips- Tight hips can negatively impact your posture, flexibility, and even your mobility. Tight hips flexors can prevent you from being able to move the way you want to, and this can result in incorrectly exercising, causing more problems in the long run. Tight hip flexors can put strain on the entire lower body, making it harder to run, stretch, strength train, and so much more.
Do Tight Hips Cause Lower Back pain?
How do tight hips affect the low back? Can they actually cause back pain or hurt the posture?
Low back pain has many causes, but tight hips can actually be one of them.
Tight Hip Flexors- Tight hip flexors can cause incorrect tilting of the pelvis, resulting in a change to your posture. A common result of this is anterior pelvic tilt. This is when the hips are so tight that the pelvis is actually pulled forwards. When any part of the posture is affected, the rest will follow. Just having tight hips can lead to your entire posture being thrown off.
Weak Glute Muscles- In addition, when the hips are extra tight, the muscles of the glutes will often become weaker, making the situation worse. This can cause pain in the lower back after a while. Weak glute muscles can make working out more difficult and can force a deeper curve in the lower spine, often causing strain and discomfort. Weak glute muscles can also actually contribute to pelvic tilts as well.
You can see how just having tight hips can affect so much when it comes to your posture and your lower back. This is why it is important to work on increasing the flexibility and mobility of the hips flexors to properly allow better movement for the rest of the body.
Benefits of Yoga for the Lower Back and Hips
- Correcting Posture- Yoga is great for the posture and can help to realign the spine and stack the vertebrae properly. Many suffer from something called kyphosis which is when the shoulders curve forwards, causing the back to hunch. When this happens, the entire spine is affected and everything becomes out of alignment. Yoga can help to reverse this, bringing the natural curve back into the spine, and relieving tension and discomfort.
- Strengthening Muscles of the Back and Hips- Yoga includes many poses that can actually help to strengthen the muscles of the back and hips. When muscles are weak, they can be easily pulled or torn. When the muscles are stronger, the lower back and hips will have more support, stabilizing and stacking the vertebrae properly.
- Loosening Tight Hips- As you now know, tight hips can cause discomfort that radiates up into the low back and down into the hips. When you properly and safely stretch out the hips, you can allow for more mobility and flexibility while decreasing pain.
- Increasing Flexibility in Back and Hip Muscles- When the hips and lower back are tight, you are more likely to experience tension, stiffness, and pain in these areas. The entire spine is connected, so when one area is extra tense, everything else is affected. Yoga promotes flexibility all throughout the body. As the lower back and hips increase in flexibility, the muscles, tendons, and ligaments will begin to become stretchier andthe fascia will become softer and more mobile, relieving discomfort.
How to Modify Poses for Low Back and Hip Pain
There are many ways to modify yoga poses when dealing with low back and hip pain. Certain yoga poses might become more difficult if you deal with thighteen in your hips or lower back.
It is always a good idea to have props ready to go to assist you. In addition, the poses themselves can be modified to become more accessible for you.
Blocks- Yoga blocks are super helpful and are some of the most popular yoga props out there. Blocks are great for supporting you, bringing the ground closer to you, and so much more. When dealing with tight hips or a sore low back, you might choose to use blocks to take some of the stress off of the body. An example would be using blocks under the knees during butterfly pose for tight hips. You might also choose to place a block under the glutes during bridge pose to relieve pressure in the low back. If you want to check out our yoga blocks, click here!
Straps- Straps are a great way to help with reaching when the arms are not quite long enough. When it comes to the lower back and hips, straps can be used to reach towards the feet in forward folds so that you are not rounding the back too far. You might also use straps during seated wide-leg forward folds to wrap around the feet and hold onto with the hands. This can be helpful for tight hips. If you want to check out our extra-long, cotton straps, you can get one free with any purchase of a block set. Click here to learn more.
Bolster- Yoga bolsters are absolutely wonderful, though they are slightly less common. If you struggle with tight hips or back pain, then bolsters might be very helpful for you. Bolsters are like oval pillows that can be used to support you or hold you up while practicing. You might choose to place a bolster on top of your legs during a seated forward fold so that you can lay on top of it. This would make it so that you are not rounding your back and do not have to reach as far forwards. You also might choose to use a bolster during child’s pose to lay over. This would decrease how much tension is being placed in the hips.
Chairs- If you find that you struggle with practices on the mat, chair yoga might be a great answer for you. Chair yoga involves doing yoga poses while seated in a chair, or holding onto a chair for support during standing poses. Chairs are especially helpful for supporting the lower back and hips during poses. For example, if you wanted to practice a triangle pose but doing so was too difficult for the hips and back, sitting in a chair to do the pose would help relieve pressure in the spine and hips. Learn more about chair yoga here.
Pose Modifications- Outside of props, the poses themselves can be modified to support you. If certain poses are too difficult, there are always alternatives. For example, if you wanted to practice downward facing dog, but you would not keep the spine long while doing so, you could always bend into the knees to lengthen the back of the body, keeping from rounding the back. If you were practicing warrior II, and turning your foot at ninety degrees was too difficult due to tight hips, you might choose to turn the foot in at eighty degrees instead. If you are ever unsure of how to modify a pose, ask a yoga instructor. If you are practicing at home, look up alternatives to the poses, or do a practice that specializes in low back and hip pain.
Dynamic Movement- When doing yoga, many try to force themselves right into a pose. The problem with this is that it can be dangerous and can make it more likely to pull muscles. For tight lower backs and hips, forcing yourself into a pose is not a good idea and can result in injuries. The safest way to deepen a yoga pose would be to use dynamic movement. Dynamic movement keeps the body gently moving during a pose, using the breath and core strength to flow within the pose, slowly deepening it over time. This allows the body to warm up gradually, deepening a pose without forcing your way into it. If you want to check out a dynamic hip warmup for beginners, click here!
Five Yoga Poses for Lower Back Pain
1. Reclining Twist- This is a great stretch and twist for the lower back. For this pose, start laying down on your back on the mat. Keeping your knees bent, bring your feet flat to the ground and your arms out to the sides. Keep your shoulders fully flat on the ground. Drop your knees over to one side and turn your head to the opposite side. Press the hips down and away as you gently twist. If the shoulders start to come up and away from the ground, ease the knees back to keep the shoulders flat. Rest here for about a minute. Inhale to bring your knees and head to center and exhale to do the pose on the other side.
2. Cat/ Cow- These poses are great for posture and aligning the spine. They can also be very helpful for decreasing pain. To do this pose, start on the hands and knees. If there is too much pressure in the wrists here, feel free to use a pad or roll up the front of your mat for beneath your hands. On an inhale, arch your back and look up to the sky. As you exhale, round your back and tuck your chin to your chest. Continue to work with the breath and roll through these poses at your own pace. If you can not easily do this pose on the mat, you can also try it while sitting in a chair. To do the chair version of this pose, sit down and place your hands on your thighs. As you inhale, arch your back and look up to the sky. As you exhale, round your back. It is best to do these at least five to ten times, or as many times as you would like.
3. Child’s Pose- This gentle pose is a great one for stretching out the lower back, and it also brings a nice stretch into the hips. For child’s pose, start on the hands and knees. As you exhale, bring your hips back over your heels and stretch your arms out in front of you. Your knees can be out to the sides or directly beneath you. You can also bring the arms down to the sides if that feels better for you. Try to bring the forehead to the ground here. If this is too difficult, fold your hands beneath your forehead or use a block to cushion it. Hold this pose for at least a minute or as long as you would like. Inhale to come back up.
4. Bridge Pose- Start on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the ground. Bring your arms down by your sides and inhale to lift your hips up. On the exhale, if you choose to, you can bring your hands together on the ground beneath your hips for more support. If you can not easily hold your hips up here, use a block or a bolster under your glutes to hold you up. Hold this pose for at least five deep breaths or as long as you would like.
5. Standing Forward Fold- Standing forward fold is a nice stretch for the lower back and hamstrings. When doing this pose, start standing up on your mat in mountain pose with your arms by your sides and your feet hip-width distance apart. Inhale to bring your arms up to the sky and exhale to fold forwards, hinging from the hips. Only fold as far forwards as you comfortably can. If you can not reach your toes that is okay; you can either hand here, hold opposite elbows, rest your hands on your knees, or use two blocks to rest the hands on. You can also use a strap here under the feet and hold onto both ends with your hands. For tight hamstrings, try this pose with a block between the thighs. You can also do this pose sitting in a chair and fold forwards towards the feet, letting the upper body hang down. Stay here for five deep breaths or as long as you would like.
Five Poses for Opening Hips
1. Butterfly Pose- This is a very deep hip opener. To do this pose, start on your mat and bring your feet flat together with your knees out to the sides. Never force your knees down to the mat. For a deeper stretch, bring your feet closer in towards your body. For less of a stretch, gently press them away from you. If you can not easily bring your knees to the ground, that is okay. They do not have to be flat on the ground. You can, however, place blocks beneath your knees for support here. From here, you can either stay where you are, or you have the option to fold forwards over the legs, bringing your arms out in front of you. You can hold this pose for a minute or as long as you would like.
2. Pigeon Pose- This is a great pose for increasing mobility and flexibility in the hips. To do this pose, start on the hands and knees. If starting on the right side, as you inhale, bring your right knee towards your right wrist and exhale to bring your right ankle towards your left wrist, flexing your right foot. From here, stretch the back leg back behind you. Keep the hips squared. If you need more support here, you can place a block under the lower hip to hold you up. You can either stay here or you have the option to fold forwards over the front leg. This is a great psoe to hold for about a minute. Make sure to repeat on the other side.
3. Downward Facing Frog Pose- This is a very intense yoga pose and a deep hip opener. If you have problems putting pressure in your knees, you might want to avoid this pose or use pads beneath your legs. To do this pose, start on your hands and knees and bring your knees out to the sides, turning your toes away from the body and flexing your feet. From here, bring your forearms to the ground and gently use the hands and arms to press back, bringing the stretch into the hips. Keep the core engaged here. Hold this pose for five deep breaths or as long as you would like. Inhale to come back up to the hands and exhale to bring the legs back together.
4. Reclined Figure 4- To do this pose, start by lying down on your back with the knees bent and the feet flat on the ground. As you inhale, bring your right leg up and as you exhale, cross it over the left thigh. Keep your right foot flexed as you bring the knee out to the side. You can stay here or you can bring the right arm through the legs and wind the left arm around the back of the left thigh, joining the hands together. You also have the option to bring the left leg up to the sky, keeping the foot flexed. Whichever version of the pose you choose to do, stay here for about a minute or as long as you would like. Repeat on the other side.
5. Squat Pose- To do squat pose, step your feet a bit more than hip-width distance apart and turn your toes out to the sides. From here, hug your core in and squat down on an exhale, dropping your hips down and bringing your hands flat together at the heart center. Keep your spine long. If you can, bring your elbows inside of your knees for more traction. If you need more support here, you can place a block under the glutes to hold you up. Hold this pose for five deep breaths or as long as you would like.
Best Body By Yoga Programs for Low Back and Hip Pain
Body By Yoga offers a variety of yoga programs. We actually have a specific program called Better Back Yoga which focuses on back health and decreasing back pain. This program includes three classes to help alleviate back pain as well as a free ten minute routine for immediate back pain relief. You can check out this program here!
Reference: Hoy, D., March, L., Brooks, P., Blyth, F., Woolf, A., Bain, C., Williams, G., Smith, E., Vos, T., Barendregt, J., Murray, C., Burstein, R., & Buchbinder, R. (2014). The global burden of low back pain: estimates from the Global Burden of Disease 2010 study. Annals of the rheumatic diseases, 73(6), 968–974. https://doi.org/10.1136/annrheumdis-2013-204428