About Yoga for Back Pain
Before my journey into the world of viniyoga, I didn’t understand the complex issues in the sacrum which cause back problems for so many. In fact, it wouldn’t be wrong to say I didn’t really know what the sacrum was at all!
Sure, I knew that it existed, but my first yoga teacher training program never talked about it in-depth, my students never complained about it, I hadn’t experienced any problems with it personally. As a result, I had long ignored the vertebrae grouping all-together.
This state of blissful ignorance was shattered at the beginning of my first viniyoga teaching course—my involvement in this course has moved the sacrum to the center of my understanding.
After the Yoga for Back Pain course, I started to notice the term ‘sacrum’ cropping up in nearly every yoga course. Teachers would mention that a particular exercise is “tough on the sacrum,” or that those with sacrum problems ought to “be careful on this one.” Have you ever started to see a word you just learned in nearly every place? The same thing happened to me with the sacrum I yoga. The problems of the sacrum are expansive, and present a serious issue for those who enjoy yoga.
To be more specific, it’s not really the sacrum that we have issues with, but the sacroiliac (SI) joints. The sacrum, located at the base of your spine, consists of five vertebrae that are fused together to form a bone about the size of your hand. These vertebrae are connected snugly to the pelvis using the SI joints. The nature of the vertebrae makes them perfect for bearing weight. Using the pelvis, the sacrum is able to effectively distribute weight down the legs and to the feet.
Mobility in the sacrum can vary from person to person. It can tip forward on the pelvis (called nutation) or slightly back (counternutation).
Though it can tip up to ten percent either forwards or backwards, the sacrum is often put into danger with even a slight movement. Too much stress put on the sacrum can create lifelong problems, fractures, or worse.
Though most people can suffer from some sort of a sacrum-related problem, the following groups are in the highest risk categories for sacrum issues:
Women of Reproductive Age
The very purpose of the sacrum lends itself to childbirth. Both nutation and counternutation are essential movements which help to facilitate the fetus’s exit from the womb. And we all know that in pregnant women hormone relaxin is released, which makes the ligaments more lax for the same purpose of accommodating the birthing process. So whether or not your students are pregnant right now, of reproductive age, or have even given birth before, the risk is always present for irritation of the sacrum and SI joints.
People with loose ligaments
Some of us were born with looser ligaments which allow us to do more advance and contorting yoga poses.
What’s Wrong with Loose Ligaments?
Yes, even the ultra-flexible girl in your math class, who can easily twist her own foot behind her head, is extra-susceptible to an injury to the sacrum. The sacrum of extra-flexible individuals is at an increased risk to pop out of place. While the dislocation usually only occurs on one side, its effects are significant. It can tear all the other ligaments holding it into place.
As a result of this issue, yoga teachers need to be even more aware of the risks associated with the sacrum of flexible yoga practitioners.
Preventing Sacrum Injury
Be Careful on the Asymmetrical Poses
Asymmetrical poses, especially ones where one hip is in a fixed position and the spine is being strongly pulled the other way, can be incredibly dangerous. A perfect example of one such pose is the Janu Sirsasana, which is not necessarily an advanced posture but it typically aggravates a “hot sacrum.”
- Do not use the arm to pull yourself up if the joints start to hurt.
- Make sure that the students’ bodies are adequately prepared before they attempt a posture (read more on how to prepare the body for a difficult posture).
- DO NOT demonstrate advanced poses if you have not properly warmed yourself up. This is a major source of injuries for yoga teachers.
- Remind your students (and yourself) to stop if it hurts.
Do Not do Too Many Asymmetrical Poses in a Row
A large amount of advanced asymmetrical poses on the same side can irritate the SI joint and become a serious problem for those who suffer from chronic joint issues.
Personally, I have even been in classes where an instructor refused to listen to this key tip. In one class, the teacher had the students do a 45-minute stint of asymmetrical poses on the right side. While this seems like a perfect workout for the dominant side of my body, the reality is that such a sequence leaves students without abdominal support, and places far too much stock in a n area of the body which continues to leave some yoga fans hurt.
As you do these exercises, the sacrum twists and turns to match the movement of the rest of your body. The SI joint in particular moves a lot to accommodate the increased stress on the body. In most cases, the sacrum can keep up. But for those who have a “hot” sacrum, the increased stress can spell a huge problem.
By switching sides more often and paying closer attention to the needs of the sacrum, yoga teachers can preserve the prospective health of themselves and their students.
Do Not Insist on Keeping the Legs Straight During Forward Bends
Keeping the legs straight can put unnecessary stress on the sacrum, as well as on the rest of the body. In many cases, key yoga-related injuries can be traced back to yoga teachers demanding that the legs remain entirely straight during forward-facing bends.
The simple solution to sacrum-based problems is to make sure that teachers don’t demand the legs remain entirely straight; letting them remain naturally-bending when they need to is a much better solution.
When you sequence your classes, be sure to include poses that stabilize the sacrum.
Vimanasana is one of those “magic” yoga poses that accomplishes the noble goal of stretching out the joints without putting them through undue stress. However, teachers need to ensure several things in their students to make sure that the poses don’t disproportionately hurt the sacrum:
- Make sure the student’s back is strong enough to handle the pose.
- Your student keeps their pelvis grounded on both sides when attempting the pose.
Yoga for Back Pain Conclusion
Though not hard to put into practice in a simple yoga class, these basic tips could serve to prevent possibly disastrous injuries to the sacrum. However, students who are injured ought to limit irritating actions in the sacrum area.
Once the initial stage of pain has passed, yoga students need to seek professional help to decide when, and how, to move forward safely. Yoga for Back Pain is a solid investment for your body.