October 14, 2016

Yoga can complement the medical approach to easing back pain and improving spine function.

About a third of adults report having back pain in an average year, and the search for relief can take many paths. Sometimes the best approach is to treat with medications, topical applications or even in a small number of cases, surgery.

Amanda Wentworth, who teaches at the Osher Center for Integrative Health at Vanderbilt, has another potential solution: yoga.

“Yoga is completely complementary to the medical approach for treatment,” says Wentworth, who teaches the “Gentle Yoga for Back Care” series at the Osher Center, which is part of Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

“Sometimes people with back pain have been in the medical system for a while, and often an integrative approach, using both yoga and western medicine, works well for them. These days it is even suggested by a patient’s doctor.”

She says that while she believes that the regular practice of yoga may be preventive for some back pain, most people who try yoga are trying to relieve pain they already have.

“A lot of times people don’t find their way to yoga until they have a problem,” Wentworth says. “Yoga can ease the pain and improve the function of all areas of the spine, from misalignment in the pelvis and lower back to stress in the upper back and neck.”

She says that the benefits of yoga for back pain come as a three-part “gentle progression”:

  • Begin with breathing and relaxation;
  • Add gentle and comfortable movement;
  • Conclude with appropriate strengthening.

“I always welcome beginners and make sure everyone finds their most comfortable position for the movements, whether they stay seated, standing, or lying down for the class. All the classes are structured around individual needs and for people with no experience of yoga at all,” Wentworth says.

Yoga resources

See these previous My Southern Health infographics for the following yoga sequences:

Relieving chronic pain 

Reducing headache pain

Improving sleep 

Inner strength (think of this as finding emotional stability in a stressful world)

Learn more about yoga and other offerings at the Osher Center for Integrative Medicine at www.vanderbilthealth.com/osher.