Back pain affects half of American adults every year, and it is estimated that nearly 80% of us will experience back pain at some point in our lives. Yoga instructor and fitness expert Jill Miller comes to the rescue with some simple pain-relieving techniques based on her 27 years of practice and experience. Creator of the Yoga Tune Up program and DVD series, Miller’s signature class is taught by her specialized teaching team at Equinox in Los Angeles and other yoga and fitness facilities worldwide. Here, she demonstrates her top three exercise recommendations to ease back pain:
- Place two tennis balls or therapy balls (available at yogatuneup.com) along the side of the spine in the upper back.
- Breathe slowly into the ribs and rock from side to side and allow the balls to massage in towards the rib joints, 1–2 minutes on left side of spine, and 1–2 minutes on the right side. Then, move the balls slightly lower (to the lower thoracic spine region, in the upper back) and repeat.
Why?This frees up tension in spinal and breathing muscles, and deeply massages back musculature to relieve spasm and allow for exercise and movement.
Coreso Leg Lifts
- Lie on a yoga mat with a block or phone book under your pelvis.
- Reach your arms overhead and externally rotate them so that your hands hold on to the sides of the yoga mat and attempt to pull the mat apart.
- Stretch your right leg toward the ceiling (if hamstrings are tight, bend the knee), and lower your left leg toward the floor without touching the floor. Do not allow the spine to lose its stability or natural curves. Repeat on the other side.
- Breathe for 1 full minute on each side while remaining stable.
Why? This pose targets the intimate relationship between our breath and our posture. You will feel a tremendous elongation in your innermost core muscles, close to your spine. Hip flexors are lengthened, as are the hamstrings and upper shoulder muscles.
Magician’s Assistant on a Ledge
- Place your right hip on a brick and right elbow on the floor.
- Engage your side waist muscles (obliques) and the quadratus lumborum (lower back muscles) by raising your legs to hover 4–6 inches above the floor.
- Make sure that your shoulders, pelvis, and ankles line up with each other, and that the two legs remain “glued” together
- Sustain the position while breathing deeply for 1 full minute, then switch sides.
Why?This exercise helps to strengthen the sides of the core, essential for protecting the spine. It targets the obliques,the spine and pelvis muscles, and the lower back muscles. (You will feel this one the next day!)
Natural Back Pain Relievers
Look for these ingredients in formulas or as single supplements.
Boswellia (Boswellia serrata), an Ayurvedic herbal remedy long used in India, has anti-inflammatory properties and is widely used for pain. However, unlike NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory durgs) such as ibuprofen, it doesn’t irritate the stomach.
Bromelain, an enzyme derived from pineapple stems, helps to reduce inflammation and pain, as well as bruising and swelling after an injury.
Devil’s claw (Harpagophytum procumbens) has been used for pain relief for centuries. One four-week study that examined the use of this herbal remedy for slight-to-moderate back, neck, and shoulder muscle tension and pain, showed a significant reduction in pain in the people taking devil’s claw compared to a placebo group.
Perluxan, a proprietary, standardized extract of hops (Humulus luplus L.), has been shown to inhibit pro-inflammatory chemicals and quickly reduce pain. Look for it in formulas.
Turmeric (Curcuma longa) is a spice used in curry. A study published in The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine showed that the active ingredient in turmeric, curcumin, was comparable to ibuprofen for alleviating pain.
White Willow Bark (Salix alba) is chemically similar to aspirin and has been used to relieve pain since the time of Hippocrates in the 5th century B.C.