Lower back pain is common in adults as we age. A quick Google search shows that anywhere from 39-84% of adults experience lower back pain at some point in their life. Yoga and core strengthening practices can give us the strength and mobility that we need to support our lower back, both preventing pain, and helping us through the pain when it happens.
Age related lower back pain comes on gradually and often shows up as stiffness or soreness. This pain is brought on or worsened by unsupportive shoes, sleeping on an old mattress, or poor posture. Also, we all have funny little physical habits that, over years, contribute to imbalances in our body and can lead to pain. In my decades of experience as both a yoga instructor and acupuncturist, I find that we can trace back most chronic pain to at least one of these things.
Causes of Lower Back Pain
There are many causes of chronic lower back pain. One cause of pain and discomfort can be due to unsupportive shoes. Even if originally those shoes supported your body, over time, their support wears out. If you are a walker or a runner, when you’ve gone about 200 miles in your sneakers/running shoes, it’s time to get new ones. If you spend all day in heels or other shoes that “squish” your feet in some way, it will affect how you walk and therefore your posture. Being able to spread your toes is important for your foot health and will affect the rest of your body. Many of these foot problems cause pain in other parts of your body. How your foot hits the ground will affect how you walk and move. If you are compensating for foot pain, that compensation will travel up the body, often causing neck and lower back pain. You can read more about the importance of posture in my post “Mom Was Right, You Should Stand Up Straight.”
We spend (ideally) 8 hours each night sleeping. Sleep is when the body repairs and restores itself. When you are sleeping on a mattress that is old (over 10-15 years old), your body sleeps with less support than it did originally and this can cause pain. If you wake up every morning with a sore or stiff lower back pain, chances are you need a new mattress.
The third cause of lower back pain, and one that I love to discuss, is posture. The position in which your body spends most of its time will affect how it feels. When you hold a child on one hip, that affects your posture. If you are sitting at a computer or staring at your phone, that affects your posture. When you only sit with one leg crossed over the other and never switch legs, that will affect your posture. If you lean on the arm rest on your door while driving and never lean the other way, that affects your posture. There are so many little habits that we have in our day that aren’t necessarily problematic in and of themselves. The problem is when you repeat these habits over the course of a lifetime, for hours every day. These small habits become more “permanent” adjustments and compensations in how we move through our day and will eventually lead to pain. The more your body is pulled away from center, the more pain and dysfunction you’ll feel.
How Yoga Can Help
Yoga is a practice that is bilateral, meaning whatever you do on one side, you do on the other. We are one-side dominant creatures who do not lead symmetrical lives. We typically brush our teeth with the same hand each time, we even go upstairs or walk leading with the same foot. Even if you drive a manual car, each foot does different things when we drive. Practicing yoga helps us move more symmetrically, thereby balancing out the imbalances caused by our daily lives. The more your practice, the more you move toward symmetry. I’m not suggesting that you practice 7 days a week for hours a day, but having a regular yoga practice will help improve how your body feels.
As we age, we become less resilient with our recovery from our daily activities. If we get injured at 20, we heal pretty quickly; at 50 it takes a lot longer. Keeping our body strong and mobile as we age can prevent a lot of problems later on. Core strengthening gives our lower back support and can help us lead more functional lives. Read last week’s post “Strengthen Your Pelvic Floor, So Much More Than Kegels” to learn about why you should care about having a strong pelvic floor, even if you were assigned male at birth.
Yoga strengthens the lower back in poses like Cobra, Locust, Cow, and Bridge, while creating mobility in muscles that affect the lower back, like Low Lunge, Half Split, Bound Angle, and Standing Half Moon. This balance of strength and mobility is what makes yoga such a valuable practice as we age. It can grow with us, change with us, and adjust to meet the needs of our aging body.
I started practicing yoga when I was 23 and I can tell you, at age 51, my practice is very different now than it was when I started. I am much more mindful of why I practice, using yoga as a way to get in touch with my body and mind and keep both functioning optimally. With a calm mind, I can move my body intentionally to stretch what feels tight and stiff, and strengthen what gives me stability. My yoga practice is no longer about looking good, it’s all about feeling good in the body that I have. I want to stay strong and mobile for as long as possible. Yoga makes that possible for me.
“Strength and Mobility for Your Active Life: Core and Lower Back” is my 4 week online course that give you the intellectual and physical understanding of what might be causing your lower back pain and what to do about it. To read more about the course and to sign up, click here!
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