As a chiropractor, we often get ask if yoga is good for spinal pain. I think because yogi often have great range of motion and spinal flexibility, that is the preconceived idea that they have great spinal health. Unfortunately, this is largely not true.
Yoga as a recovery intervention
Don’t get me wrong. We are not saying yoga useless is for back pain. What we are saying just spinal flexibility and range of motion have no preventative effects against lower back pain. This means you can be flexibility and still have chronic aches and soreness. In fact, you can be inflexible and have no pain!
Now that we have clarified that, yoga can actually help with back pain. A systematic review published in 2016 found yoga to be helpful when compared to other conservative treatment options (e.g., stretching, ). However, clinical guidelines still put yoga as second-line treatment (while exercise is first-line intervention).
The reason is simple: The research that supports yoga for back pain recovery is not very robust. In the review I mentioned earlier, yoga was compared to no treatment in three of studies. So, yes it makes sense that yoga helps over doing nothing. Furthermore, a lot of studies included in the review had very small sample sizes. This means the results from the studies may not actually be generalisable to the greater population.
Can yoga make my back stiffness worse?
The short answer is yes. It is entirely possible. I appreciate this may be difficult to accept because yoga, for most parts, sounds safe. In reality, it is possible for yoga to make your low back condition worse.
The key to deciding if yoga is suitable for you will come down to if your body has the capacity to support yoga as an exercise. If your body can support yoga, then by all means go for it! Even if you don’t feel better from yoga practice, it is unlikely for you to have detrimental effects from it.
However, if you don’t have to capacity to support yoga practice, you will make your condition worse. This is particularly tricky because it will delay your recovery.
As the saying goes, always seek professional advice!
I take care of myself. I stop whenever it hurts. I never overpush.
If you belong to the group that cutback on training when it hurts and push for more when it doesn’t hurt, I’ve bad news for you. It doesn’t work.
Pain is not an indicator of damage! I’ve explained this quite extensively before within the context of pain science. I highly recommend you have a read. It should completely blow your mind!
Let’s put it into context for you. Let’s say if I am a seasoned runner and I have been running 10km every week for the past 10 years. At the end of my weekly 10km run yesterday, I experienced a slight knee pain for the first time in my life.
Does that mean my knee pain is caused by the 10km I did yesterday?
It’s more likely a cumulative effect of what I did (and did not do) for the past four weeks.
This is where things become tricky. Because pain is never an accurate indicator of your current physical state, it’s a terrible idea to use it as a benchmark for what may or may not be good for you. You can have pain without damage (e.g., regular massage, walking on reflexology stones, stepping on lego brick) and you absolutely can have damage without pain (read the pain science article)!
To summarise, don’t just listen to your body.
The yoga I do is all gentle stretches. It’s good for me.
You may be super disappointed to learn that stretching actually doesn’t help you reduce risk of injury. Ironically, strength training — which many sedentary people perceive as dangerous — has a strong preventative effect against injuries! And this study has 26 610 participants. It’s very legit.
Shocking right? We are always told to stretch. Stretch before exercise. Stretch after exercise. Stretch in the morning. Stretch if you have pain. Well, stretching isn’t the magic elixir that will cure all your problems lah!
It’s most likely a 口頭禪 (something we say habitually without giving much thought into it).
Other things you should also know about stretching:
- Stretching makes you weaker.
- Stretching can make you run slower.
- Stretching doesn’t even increase your range of motion, even if you do it daily for six weeks
So ya, stretching is very much not good for you.
What should I do for my chronic back pain?
Don’t focus so much on a magic cure. There’s no universal one-size-fit-all solution for your back pain.
Remember, the first-line intervention for back pain is exercise. There’s no specific exercise that is going to miraculously cure your back pain. What you need is a diagnostician and competent clinician to walk you through your recovery process.
It’s about finding out what you can do. At Square One Active Recovery, we use a test-retest approach to explore what your body responds well to and what your body responds poorly to. From there, we figure out a recovery plan to help you get better. We iterate every single session as you respond! No cookie cutter approach!
Is exercise even part of chiropractic?
I know I’ve said this hundreds of times now, but exercise is part of chiropractic since its beginning. B.J. Palmer is one of the founders of chiropractic and you can see that he has a huge gym as part of his clinic.
When we refer back to the books he wrote, he clearly stated that chiropractic adjustments and spinal manipulations alone is not enough for full recovery. In his words,
“Rehabilitation of the part which has long been in dis-use. This cannot be done by external manipulation, such as massage. It must be done by internal use by patient himself.”
Yes, I get that the chiropractors you see in Singapore are all about the adjustments. This is because they are quick and easy to perform. It’s also because they don’t really make you 100% better so you need to always come back for “maintenance care”. Some chiropractic clinics have moved away from that and started including technology in their practice.
I promised you that the “technology” they introduced are likely spinal traction or spinal decompression machines, electrotherapy sounds as TENS, ultrasound, or even shockwave. Unfortunately, none of these are evidence-based treatments. Not only are they not first-line treatments, most of them don’t make it to any clinical guideline recommendation.
In other words, they don’t work.
To find out more about how we can help you with your back aches and soreness, drop us a message using the form below. Let us help you help yourself find freedom from pain.
WANT TO GET STARTED IMMEDIATELY?
Frustrated by the lack of results-driven and ethical chiropractic clinics in Singapore, Chiropractor Jesse Cai found Square One Active Recovery to deliver meaningful and sustainable pain solutions.
Our goal? To make our own services redundant to you.