Welcome to the continuation article on The Most Common Yoga Injuries and How You Can Avoid Them Part II: Lower Back. The first article was chock full of good information on how to prevent and be mindful of how injuries can occur to your lower back. Today we’ll look a bit more into twisting and spinal biomechanics. Plus I’ll share some of my favorite poses/sequences to help strengthen your lower back!
Mechanism #3: Proper Cueing & Spinal Biomechanics
One of the final things we’ll discuss is how sometimes the words we use can cue yogis into a space where they are more likely to injure their low back.
Check out this chart:
Here you can see the ranges of motion of the spine. The Cervical spine (neck) moves in all directions, the Thoracic spine (mid back) is great at rotation, and the Lumbar spine is all about flexion/extension.
What I often hear when I take yoga classes is a misunderstanding where twisting should occur in the spine. I very commonly hear “twist from the waist,” “twist from the hips,” “rotate your back,” etc *facepalm*. Check out that chart again, the lowest amount of twisting occurs in the low back, especially at the waist (thoracic/lumbar junction)!
Why is this line of cueing dangerous? Well, the lumbar discs are highly prone to injury with coupled forward flexion and rotation.
When loaded repetitively or with too much force (like lifting something heavy), the result of coupled spinal flexion and rotation can be a herniated disc. Therefore, it’s important to maintain a neutral lower spine in many of our twisting postures.
It’s okay to allow for some rotation of the low back, as it does have a very small amount. Encourage yourself and your yogis to twist from their heart/chest! This is how we can ensure proper low back spinal alignment and good positioning for the discs of our lower back.
Mechanism #4: Mobility: Above & Below
The low back is a stable area, it doesn’t need to move very much!
Many people twist from their waist/low back because their mid back lacks the ability to rotate. The Thoracic spine is meant to rotate and when it has that ability, less strain is placed on the lower back. The lower back will absorb the rotational force when the mid back isn’t rotating.
Here’s a way to bring in some thoracic rotation from a Table Top Pose:
- Start in Table Top. Place a block between your legs to stabilize your lower body.
- Bring your right hand towards your chest,
- Focus on the sensation of the twist at your chest via your elbow.
- Do 3x, repeat on left side.
Lack of mobility in the hips is a common cause of low back pain too. If the hips, a highly mobile ball and socket joint, are restricted, than that force is going to be absorbed by the knee and the lower back. I’ll save the hip mobility stuff for a future article in this series dedicated to the hip. For now, check out this quick and simple “Stir-the-Pot” mobility exercise for the hip featured in the previous knee article.
On a final note, some of my favorite poses that help to strengthen your back is Cobra Pose, Sphinx Pose, and Locust Pose. I often have people do about 3-5 repetitions of a breath to movement Cobra pose (inhale lift into Cobra, exhale lower your forehead to your mat). At the final repetition I give the option to lift their arms, then their legs into Locust pose.
Lift the back of your chest to the sky
Cobra & Locust Pose notes:
- Focus on the lift happening from the back of your shoulders towards the sky.
- Keep your head in neutral, look at the top of your mat, rather than forward.
- If you lift your legs for Locust pose, squeeze your glutes to lift your heels higher
Another favorite of mine is Bridge Pose, it works especially well for those that find Cobra/Locust difficult, uncomfortable, or painful. Do the same with breath to movement (inhale Bridge Pose, exhale lower your back slowly).
I often combine the lift of the hips in bridge with a reach of the arms to pair hip extension and shoulder flexion (an excellent coupled motion for stretching/moving the front of the body along the anterior lines of fascia)
Bridge Pose notes:
- Start with your feet wide, almost mat width distance. A wider stance will encourage your glutes to activate, rather than your hamstrings.
- I also like to have yogis slightly turn their feet out diagonally. The intention is to bring a little external rotation to the hip joint to further engage the glute max.
- Inhale lift and press through your heels, and reach your arms up and over your head.
- Exhale lower your hips and arms down by your sides at the same time.
- Go slow and focus on the lift from the hips and the reach through the fingers.
If you recall from the first part of this Low Back article, spinal extension is a very necessary motion to mitigate a lot of the forward rounded posture (which I like to call Troll or Human Cashew posture) we often see in daily life. Sequence in some light back bending towards the beginning of your class to bring people out of their hunched forward posture. This will help your yogis establish a centered, or more neutral, spine for the future postures, and yoga you’ll be doing 😊
We’ll have much more about the hips in the articles to come. Hip mobility/stability is an essential part to a healthy spine. I look forward to sharing what I know about them in the future!
In Love & Light and a strong healthy back,
Illustrations by Ksenia Sapunkova