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Yoga for Back Pain Can Deliver Relief Even When Meds Fail — Here’s How

It worked for Marianne Richmond — she was able to avoid surgery!

As we get older, many of us experience the commons arghs and ows that come with back pain. It can interrupt our sleep, our work and just our overall mood. If you feel you’ve tried everything from chiropractors to medications to heating pads and nothing is working to ease the ache, you may want to consider the all-natural, centuries-old method: yoga. It worked for Marianne Richardson, and she was able to avoid surgery. Keep reading for her inspiring story and to learn how yoga for back pain could help you.

The science on why yoga eases back pain

“Yoga is as effective as physical therapy for back pain,” asserts Jordan Metzl, MD, author of The Athlete’s Book of Home Remedies. Indeed, a 2024 study in the Journal of Orthopaedic Research found women with chronic back pain who practiced yoga regularly cut pain scores by 51% in four weeks.

Common causes of back pain

Injury, poor posture and weight gain are often to blame, but for many, back pain is due to sciatica. This condition affects up to 40% of us and occurs when the sciatic nerve that runs down the back and into the legs becomes compressed or irritated. 

Related: Starting Your Day With This One Simple Move Thwarts Upper Back Pain, Doctor Says

Complicating ­matters

Some women have pseudo sciatica, or pain that mimics sciatica but has other underlying causes. “Pseudo sciatica occurs frequently, especially in active individuals or those with specific muscle imbalances,” says Randa Jaafar, MD, an anesthesiologist and pain specialist in New York. This type of pain is often ­misdiagnosed and mistreated, she says. 

How yoga delivers relief

No matter the cause of your pain, “yoga poses can loosen the spine and hips and address the reason you may be getting pain,” explains Dr. Metzl. He recommends searching YouTube for free beginner series. “Many of my patients start here,” he says. One of his favorites? Yoga with Adriene.

Related: These 10 Easy Yoga for Sciatica Poses Will Soothe Your Lower Back Pain

Try these 2 yoga poses to reduce back pain 

Here, two beginner-friendly yoga poses to help you feel great:

1. Glute bridge

woman doing glute bridge yoga pose

To do the glute bridge, lie on your back, knees bent, feet on the floor, hip-width apart, heels 6 inches from your glutes. Squeeze your glutes as you lift your hips up toward the ceiling, avoiding arching your back. Hold, then slowly lower to the floor. Do 10 to 20 reps.

2. Fire hydrant

Start in tabletop position, hands and knees on the floor, back straight. Place your hands directly below your shoulders, knees below your hips. With knee bent, lift one leg to the side and away from your body at a 45-degree angle. Hold, then slowly lower your leg. Do 10 on each side.

Yoga for back pain success story: Marianne Richmond

Marianne Richmond doing fire hydrant yoga pose
Marianne Richmond doing fire hydrant yoga pose.

It’s not getting any better, Marianne Richmond thought as she tried standing at her desk, frustrated by how much her back pain and sciatica were affecting her daily life.

Marianne had first noticed the pain in April of 2019 after a long flight. She brushed it off, blaming her discomfort on prolonged sitting, but then it worsened, affecting her right hip and radiating down her lower back and leg.

An orthopedist told Marianne she had sciatica (compression of a nerve that runs down the back and into the legs) and instability in the lower spine, which began a yearlong ­journey of physical therapy, pain medication, chiropractic care and, finally, a ­steroid injection. 

She also tried a lumbar support pillow, using a standing desk and exercising at home, but nothing helped. As the pain worsened, Marianne’s work and mood ­suffered, the costs added up and she was still desperate for relief.

The last straw was her visit to a neuro­surgeon. Barely acknowledging her, he suggested that Marianne needed surgery. Even though she knew that didn’t feel right, his authoritative tone created self-doubt. Reluctantly, she chose a procedure date, despite no guarantee that it would heal her.

Marianne finds a surprising solution

Senior women doing outdoor yoga class
MoMo Productions/Getty

Feeling ill at ease, Marianne decided to seek out an outdoor yoga class, hoping it would improve her mental state. While there, she fell into conversation about her upcoming surgery, and the woman she was speaking to implored Marianne to visit a highly recommended integrative health practitioner, Justin Dearing, DC, DACNB, FIAMA, FAARM. With a drop of hope still left in her heart, Marianne made an appointment.

As soon as she explained her situation, Marianne was overwhelmed to hear Dr. Dearing’s findings. He believed the problem wasn’t her spine — in fact, he was rather sure it was her gluteus minimus muscle in the buttocks, likely in spasm, that was sending pain down her leg. As she learned, it’s common for gluteus minimus trigger points that affect the calf and outside ankle to be misinterpreted as sciatic pain.

Marianne felt a big “yes!” of acknowledgement in her heart. She had always told everyone the pain was more in her behind than her back, and finally, this doctor had affirmed it.

Dr. Dearing taught her exercises she could do at home, targeting the release of the gluteus minimus muscle and strengthening the glutes and core. The exercises included clam shells, fire hydrants and side planks, which were available to view on YouTube and easy enough to try. 

“These exercises changed my life!”

Re-inspired when she experienced some initial relief in her pain, Marianne canceled her upcoming surgery and decided to take it one step further, seeking out recommendations from her local yoga studio for ways to strengthen her core. When she shared the exercises that she was doing at home, the owner of the studio exclaimed, “We do those in Pilates class!” All at once, Marianne knew she had to try that too. 

It would’ve been easy to create her own home workout using the moves she learned, but Marianne found going to class inspiring and fun. When she began, she could barely hold a forearm plank. But within two months, she was much stronger. Best of all, she felt so much better. In fact, Marianne could see and feel progress as her core, glutes and back got stronger. Her suffering had greatly diminished and by the six-month marker — she was finally pain-free!

“Today, I can do activities I love again, like yoga, running, kayaking and biking, without any pain!” Marianne beams. “I’ve regained my ability to listen to my intuition to guide me toward the right course of action. Not only is my pain gone for good, but my experience with these exercises changed my life!”

This content is not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis. Always consult your physician before pursuing any treatment plan.

For more on how to relieve back pain, click through:

What Causes Mid Back Pain + the Easy Shoulder Squeeze That Makes It Go Away

3 Natural Remedies for Back Pain

The One Thing That Finally Cured My Neck, Shoulder, and Upper-Back Pain

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