This past summer I was at a week-long camp for girls acting as a leader. It was a busy week full of cooking, cleaning, hiking, swimming, pranks, fun and games and not a lot of sleep. By the end of the week I was exhausted!
I had woken early each morning to practice yoga down by the lake and enjoy a few moments of quiet before the shrieking giggling masses awoke. One of the mornings I was in a warrior pose transitioning to a standing wide leg straddle when I felt something in my lower back pop. Immediately I was in intense pain and could hardly stand back up. I was flabbergasted. I wasn’t doing anything intense or extreme, yet it was official-my lower back was down for the count. I hobbled around camp the last few days and was relieved when it was time to go home.
That same weekend I had a 3 day yoga Teacher Training I was determined to not miss. After a chiropractic adjustment I was on the right path and could at least walk without wincing, but knew I needed to do more to solve this low back pain. During the training we did many exercises that helped to ease the muscles that were twisted out-of-place and with a few more chiropractic visits I was back in business.
But after this experience I realized what it truly means when a person has low back pain. It is awful! This past teacher training weekend my teacher Corena Hammer (corenahammer.com) was inspired to assign me to research and teach the topic of low back and back bends to help with low back pain. I learned an incredible amount and want to share that with you.
What main Muscles are involved in low back pain?
- Erector Spinae-this is the long muscle strap that is the most exterior on the spine and you can feel is you flex you back and reach back to touch on either side of the spine. This muscle is typically not blame for low back pain but it is good to know it’s location.
- Multifidus- muscles found under the Erector Spinae- deep small back muscles that run on either side of the spine. Each one spans between 2-4 vertebrae and connects to the bony projections of each vertebra. These muscles play a huge role in low back pain.
When are the Multifidis muscles engaged?
During any bending or twisting motions, standing, lifting heavy objects or walking. Active in poses like Locust Post- Shalabhasana. More passive in Wheel or camel.
If this area is injured any poses that require twisting, bending or the spine or weight-bearing exercised such as navasana (boat pose), locust, or even coming up from a forward fold will hurt. That includes a lot of poses-like updog, any twists, back bending. Yoga can feel very limiting if you have lowback issues.
What is the job of the Multifidi?
The Mutifidi muscles protect the cartiladge between the vertebrae. If even one of the multifidi muscles are weak it can cause the rest of the lower back to feel pain.
- Weak Multifidus will increase pressure on the disk, the disk bulges and then you feel neurological pain.
- Also, if the multifidus contracts more than it should in an area where a disc has herniated then it becomes strained so you feel muscle pain.
How can you repair Low Back Pain?
To overcome lower back pain-strengthen the multifidus. If these muscles are being overworked because of bulging discs or lack of abdominal support, light exercise followed by relaxation can help to stop the chronic contraction and balance the muscles again.
Strong Transverse abdominals are key to strengthening the Multifidus. The Transverse abs are the deepest level of abdominals that wrap around your entire core connecting at the fascia of the lumbar spine and wrapping around the front to connect with low ribs. Think of them like a corset or girdle holding everything in place.
Try this exercise to engage the transverse abs. Stand in Tadasana (mountain pose). Draw tailbone down and draw lower abs in and up keeping pelvis stable. Purse your lips and blow slowly and strongly from lower abs holding the exhale. Imagine lower abs rotating up and back while tailbone lengthens down and slightly forward. You should feel elongated strong spine-that’s the multifidus working. You might have to try this a few times to really feel the multifidus.
5 Exercises to strengthen and heal the lower back:
- On hands and knees with one leg extended straight back and opposite arm extended straight forward palm down. Be sure to engage the transverse abs here so that your spine stays long and straight. Don’t flex your buttocks! Keep the muscle engagement in the back. Extended leg and hand don’t go any higher than the body line.
- 3 Limb Down Dog-Come to down dog then raise one leg to hip height. Keep the toes facing down to the ground to engage back, engage the lower belly and keep rotating inner thigh to the sky. Switch legs.
- Baddha Konasana (bound angle/cobbler pose)- If you find it is hard to keep spine long and straight you might need a blanket under the hips or move feet out from the body more.
- Lift knees slightly
- Tip top of pelvis towards feet (this is a slight movement, not a big tilt)
- Exhale tone and lift lower abs (like the exercise before where you engage the transverse abs)
- Lengthen tailbone down to the ground.
- Don’t worry about getting the head or chest to the legs. Just keep lengthening the spine and move straight spine forward 1-3 inches to feel the engagement of the multifidus.
- Janu Shirshasana (runners stretch)- From Baddha Konasana bend one knee and place sole of foot on opposite inner thigh. Follow the same steps as as baddha konasana, Keep back flat and extend spine forward towards straight leg. Goal is to engage multifidus, not bring body to leg. Switch Sides.
- Legs up the wall pose. As a good finishing posture, come to the wall and extend your legs straight up the wall. If you are experiencing back pain, this could be tender in the low back so bend knees a bit if needed. Allow weight to sink into the low back to stretch across the sacrum. This is very therapeutic for the low back after working those muscles.
Low back pain does not have to be a part of life forever. Yoga can be healing as we learn to engage the abdominals to secure the back and bring the low back into health. Hope this helps those of you suffering from this condition.