Yoga Cobra Pose and Back Pain

A depiction of yoga cobra with muscles.
A depiction of yoga cobra with muscles.. Science Picture Co/Collection Mix/Getty Images

Yoga Cobra Pose - Good for Your Low Back?

While the cobra pose is one many people readily associate with yoga, this does not automatically guarantee its safety, especially if you have back problems.

The basic movement of the yoga cobra pose is to arch the spine backward. People with facet joint problems and/or spondylolisthesis, would likely do well to take a cautious approach to this movement, or possibly even skip it altogether.

This is because in general, facet joint problems are  irritated when the spine is arched, and spondylolisthesis could be worsened. Ask your doctor or physical therapist if this pose is okay for your condition.

If you are in acute pain, the cobra pose should not be attempted. Otherwise, listen carefully to your pain and allow it to guide you as to how far into the pose to go.

Modify the Cobra for Safety

To modify cobra for back pain, consider treating yourself as a beginner, regardless of any prior exposure to yoga you may have. You can follow the instructions for this pose, omitting the plank position. Just start by lying on your belly, and allow the floor to provide you with support. Beginning the cobra from the plank position is asking for trouble - the plank is an advanced move that challenges even those with no back problems at all.

Another way to modify the cobra for safety is to place your forearms on the floor - not just your palms.

When you do so, be sure your elbows are directly under your shoulders. This will allow you to be in control of the movement, and will focus the work on your spine and back muscles.

Descend Your Shoulder Blades Down Your Back

As with downward facing dog pose, descending your shoulder blades down your back will help to support your upper spine while it arches.

 Try also to keep your shoulders open across the front.

Strengthening Back Muscles

Because the cobra pose extends your spine backward, it will likely work your back muscles. If you follow the instructions carefully, you will also strengthen pelvic muscles, as well as your lower abdominals. This type of strength work is a matter of position. It may seem like the front pelvic and abdominal muscles are stretching, but with the tops of your feet pressed into the floor, those muscles will be working hard, and getting stronger.

Delight Your Disks

Extending the spine back may alleviate some or all of your disc symptoms. The degree to which the cobra pose can do this will, of course, vary by individual.  But if your doctor or physical therapist has cleared you for exercise, a modified  cobra pose modified done without pain may help you reduce your low back pain.

Follow Up With a Gentle Stretch to the Low Back

The yoga cobra pose can an intense experience for the spine and back muscles. Following it up with a gentle back stretch is usually recommended to keep muscles in balance.

Child's pose is ideal for this purpose.

Test Your Yoga for Back Pain Knowledge

Knowing when to do a potentially harmful pose such as cobra, and when it's time to refrain can be made easier with a bit of education. Take the Yoga for Back Pain quiz to find any gaps in your knowledge on the subject.

Kisner, C., & Colby, L.A. (2002). Therapeutic Exercise: Foundations and Techniques. Philadelphia: F.A. Davis Company.

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