About 18 months ago, as I was teaching an evening yoga class, my lower back seized up and I could not move from my position on the floor. It took a while, but the spasm eventually dissipated and I was able to finish teaching the class. From that point on, the back spasms became a regular occurrence, at least three times a day. (I know…I am not selling my yoga classes very well now.)
I had had the occasional problem with my lower back over the years, mainly when the cold weather arrived, and my back would seize up then. However, as soon as I put some heat on it, the muscles would relax and my back would be fine again. Yet this time, nothing seemed to help. My back ache became worse over time. I had problems moving. All I could do was lie flat on my back.
Then one of my yogis suggested a local osteopath that I should visit. I made an appointment the very next morning. The osteopath treated my back and suggested that I might have a Sacroiliac Joint Injury. The sacroiliac joint joins your pelvis and lower back- or your hip bones to the sacrum. The main function of the sacroiliac joint is to absorb shock between the upper body and the lower body.
How did I injure it? I can only hypothesise as to how I injured it; however, it was probably over time. As a yoga instructor and yogi, I have always been extremely mobile in my hips, doing the splits well into my adulthood (ok 40s). Being hyper mobile in the hips can lead to an unstable pelvis which then means that the sacroiliac joint isn’t absorbing as much of the shock between both halves of the body.
In addition, being flexible means I also neglected strengthening my glutes and my hamstrings (my buttocks and backs of my thighs). This meant that I was then putting more weight into one side of my body than the other.
I went for further investigations at a local spinal clinic, where they took an x-ray of my spine. I was shocked by the results. I had a curvature in my spine. The physiotherapist asked me if I had scoliosis, and obviously my reply was negative.
I went home and did a bit more research, which I will share with you. Did you know scoliosis can occur in menopause? I did not. I knew that women in menopause were at a higher risk of developing osteoporosis, which I just assumed happened in the legs. Well, osteoporosis can occur in any part of the body in any of your bones…including your spine.
With scoliosis in menopausal women, the discs in the spine begin to degenerate, and eventually slip. Scoliosis that develops in adult women is called Degenerative Scoliosis. As the scoliosis develops, it begins to affect your posture. As the posture begins to worsen, we begin to experience more aches and pains in the body. We might not link the two together. With Scoliosis, you tend to shift the weight of the body more onto one side, which then puts more pressure on the muscles on that side of the body. Over time, our balance decreases, our hip pain increases as does our lower back pain.
I began to train with my local Personal Trainer at the gym where I teach a few times a week. I would teach a class in the morning, then head straight into training with the PT. The exercise routine that he created for me was all about strengthening, not just my core, but my glutes and hamstrings as well. In addition, we had a good laugh, so it was good for me both physically and mentally. Over time, my posture began to improve, and my awareness of my posture grew with it. I became stronger all around, which was really noticeable when I had to push and pull a wagon full of camping gear at Glastonbury last summer.
In addition to my weight training, I also changed the way I practised yoga. I made my classes aware of why I was not doing certain poses with them, and why I had modified the way I sat in class.
My back has improved greatly from 18 months ago. I can go back to doing poses I was not able to, and I do not wake up in as much pain.
Here are some yoga poses and exercises that can help you if you have any lower back pain. Although, if your pain persists, I do recommend visiting your doctor for further advice and treatment.
Yoga Poses to Help with Lower Back Pain
1) Warrior 1
2) Downwards Facing Dog
3) Rag doll- Standing forward fold, holding opposite elbows, tucking the chin into chest, and allow gravity to pull the head towards the floor. I love this one as I feel my spine being stretched out again.
4) Parsvokanasana (Pyramid Pose)
5) Trikonasana (Triangle Pose)
6) Kneeling Lunge. Keep the spine upright, perhaps using blocks to hold yourself up.
7) Cat pose. Avoid the counter Cow pose. Just come into a neutral table top or even into child’s pose
8) Reclined hand to toe pose using a strap and flexing both feet.
Poses and Exercises to strengthen the core (abdominals and back muscle):
1. Locust Pose
2. Tiger Balance
3. Split Squats
4. Single Arm Farmer Carries
5. Apanasana with leg extensions (5b). Be sure to squeeze the belly button in towards the spine. If you are just starting out, start with just the knees bent- squeezing them in and out (5a).
Poses to avoid with Sacroiliac Joint Injury:
Wide legged forward fold
It is best to keep the pelvis square while the injury is healing, so I sit kneeling rather than cross-legged
Finally, if you are a member of gym and you are not sure how to do any of these exercises, simply ask one of the floor managers, or you can always take this blog with you.