Lower Back Pain

Most students would at some point experience lower back pain when doing core exercises with legs raised at an angle from the ground, such as cycling and leg raises. In yoga, one would experience lower back pain in navasana, a supposedly core strengthening pose. Well at least I do, because I have long and heavy legs.
The cause of this pain is actually the psoas major muscle. This muscle together with the iliacus, forms the iliopsoas which is an important muscle in hip flexion and external rotation of the thigh or femur. The psoas muscles have its origins at the vertebrates T12 and L1-5 and the contraction of this muscle therefore pulls at the lumbar vertebrates which explains the pain and strain.
This pain or discomfort is felt also in poses such as Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana where the hip flexors are engaged to keep the straightened legs lifted and horizontal.
In supine position, activating the transverse abdominus, by drawing in the belly and making sure the lower back is close to the floor helps in lessening the pain or discomfort. This creates the “airbag” effect which creates support for muscles surrounding the lumbar spine.
If pain persists, then it is advisable to make modifications to the exercises such as bending the knees to bring the weight towards the fulcrum which reduces the moment and hence the force needed to keep the legs raised.
An alternative exercise to strengthen the lower abdominal is the leg curl where the bent knees are curled towards the chest while keeping the lower back flat on the ground and engaging the pelvic muscles.
It is important that as teachers or students that we do not be obsessed with perfection. Every body is different and therefore modifications and variations are crucial in maximising the benefits and minimising the injuries or chance of injuries during asana practice.
On this note let us be reminded of the second Niyama, Santosha or “contentment” and be at peace with ourselves and our practice for the day, everyday.
Neo Chee Peng

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