Back pain has become an epidemic in Western society. Four out of five Canadian adults will experience back pain at some point in their lives. Myalgia—muscle pain—in the back is sometimes caused by injury. More frequently it is a consequence of the modern, post-war urban lifestyle.
The human body wasn’t meant to sit stationary for lengthy durations. Yet, the modern Western lifestyle requires us to remain seated in classrooms and offices for extended periods. Often, we spend those hours hunched over a computer screen. This creates strain from overuse.
A Sedentary Lifestyle Impacts Back Muscles
Sitting for long hours might seem like the polar opposite of muscle overuse. However, sitting puts more pressure on the discs in your back than standing or walking does. Sitting in a fixed position for prolonged periods causes muscle adaptation. Some muscles shorten, others lengthen. The erector spinae and other muscles, which aid in correct posture, become strained and fatigued. Quadriceps and hip flexors grow stiff and tight.
Poor posture aggravates the problem, causing imbalanced compression of the spinal discs and strain on muscles and ligaments. Slouching while seated strains the neck and shoulder muscles, too. Stress on overused muscles is only part of the problem. The other is the lack of use of muscles like the abdominals.
When we stand or move, our muscles are engaged, working to keep us upright or in motion. When we’re seated, those muscles are inactive. The size and strength of our muscles is due, in large part, to the demands placed upon them. Underused muscles atrophy with disuse, diminishing in both size and strength. When called into use, sore, stiff underutilized muscles put us at greater risk of being injured.
What can you do if you are one of the millions of Canadians dealing with chronic back pain? Avoid the natural tendency to rely on immobilization and inactivity to heal chronic back pain. Instead, employ movement therapy to keep muscles limber and strong.
Reduce Chronic Back Pain with Movement Therapy
Our natural inclination is to take it easy when our muscles feel stiff or sore. This is due, in part, to the popularity of RICE therapy which recommends rest, ice, compression and elevation to recover from injury or muscle pain. This, along with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen reduce the inflammation that often accompanies injuries. While RICE therapy and NSAIDs may reduce pain now, they can also delay the natural healing process which is reliant on the increase of biochemical activities that occur along with inflammation.
To boost the healing process, a growing number of medical professionals now prefer MEAT therapy which employs movement, exercise, analgesia and treatment to combat chronic pain and heal injured muscles. Hot yoga—an intelligent system of holistic, designed movement—is an excellent option for healing chronic back pain with MEAT therapy.
Reduce Chronic Back Pain with Therapeutic Hot Yoga
Standing up straight on a yoga mat might be the first time all day you haven’t been hunched in a chair. You arrive on the mat stiff and achy. Atrophied muscle tissue and shortened muscles—a result of our sedentary urban lifestyles—get much-needed movement and oxygen as we launch into the opening breathing exercise which boosts circulation.
The first element of MEAT therapy is movement. The gentle, controlled, intentionally-designed hot yoga postures stretch muscles and tendons. Even if we only manage to do ten percent of the asanas during class, we’ll reap physical benefits from MOVEMENT. As we move through the postures within our own range of motion, each muscle is oxygenated, reducing joint pain and eliminating scar tissue.
The fascia—connective tissue that binds individual muscle fibres into working groups—can become sticky and form adhesions that impair normal tissue movement. Movement of injured or underused muscles prevents such adhesions. Movement also promotes healing by increasing the circulation of affected muscles and fascia, bringing fresh blood and nutrients to the area.
Throughout class you EXERCISE your muscles, contracting and relaxing them. Hot yoga strengthens injured muscles, but not in isolation. The beauty of yoga is its holistic nature which ensures that all of the muscles are strengthened—including muscles that usually lie dormant due to a sedentary lifestyle. This holistic approach helps prevent further injury.
Consider what happens when you have back pain. You hunch over to try to ease the pain, which creates tension in the shoulders and hips. You compensate for back pain by moving differently, perhaps in a way that makes the hip or knee susceptible to injury. Yoga’s full body therapy addresses not only the affected joint or muscle but all of the connected tissue and all of the related muscle atrophy or misuse created by the response to pain. All of the muscles are engaged and strengthened, reducing the chance of further injury.
The heat you noted the moment you walked into the hot room for yoga class serves as a natural ANALGESIC that reduces pain. Therapeutic heat dilates blood vessels and increases the extensibility (ability to stretch) of muscles, tendons and ligaments. Joint stiffness is reduced. Muscle spasms are eased.
The pain relieving effects of the heat is an essential part of what makes hot yoga such an effective movement therapy. Healing occurs faster in the absence of pain. Additionally, the heat increases blood flow, providing injured muscles with the oxygen and nutrients essential for healing.
Yoga postures practiced in a room bathed in soothing heat provide TREATMENT for sore or injured back muscles. Yoga and other treatment methods like self-massage and acupuncture ease back pain. Such treatments decrease stress hormones which contribute to chronic pain and increase dopamine and endorphins which make us feel good.
The therapeutic approach of hot yoga makes it ideal for beginners, even if you don’t consider yourself to be flexible. How can you maximize the therapeutic benefits of hot yoga to relieve back pain?
- Treat yoga as therapy. Do as much as your body will allow in every class. Apply yourself to the asanas as if they were a prescription for pain relief. They are.
- Be mindful of why you’re on the mat. It isn’t to outperform anyone—including yourself. Focus on increasing daily movement and eliminating nagging back pain.
- Listen to your body during practice. The soothing heat will loosen muscles, allowing you to stretch deeply, but don’t push your body beyond its current limits.
- Take what you learn in class off the mat. Employ proper body mechanics as you move throughout the day. Pay attention to your posture when walking and while seated. Get up and move. Stretch as often as you can throughout the day.
Movement is essential to a healthy life. The Western urban lifestyle makes life convenient, but it substantially limits our daily movement. This can lead to the underuse of muscles engaged during movement and the overuse of muscles engaged while sitting. Poor body mechanics and limited movement lead to injuries. When nursing pain or an injury, rest is necessary at times. However, the old approach of controlling pain by immobilizing our bodies in unnatural positions and taking NSAIDs—designed to eliminate inflammation which is essential to recovery—delay healing
. Movement, exercise, analgesics and therapy is the recommended road for relieving chronic back pain.
Hot yoga—an effective movement therapy can be an essential part of healing and strengthening weak or injured back muscles. The holistic approach of hot yoga, the soothing heat of the hot room and the increased circulation that results from focused breathing during movement are ideal for improving and preventing the chronic back pain that plagues so many of us.