Yoga for Back Pain: Downward Facing Dog Pose

A woman does a yoga down dog pose with good form.
A woman does a yoga down dog pose with good form. Hero Images / Hero Images / Getty Images

Downward facing dog pose (or down dog for short) is a basic yet challenging yoga pose that provides numerous benefits, and a pose that beginners and veterans alike are constantly working on improving. Keeping this in mind, it's normal if your down dog is not a perfectly accomplished piece of work. As with any yoga pose, the idea is to work toward perfection. The benefits lie in the process of getting there, rather than having arrived.

If you have a neck or back problem it's a good idea to understand how the pose works, what types of conditions it may help and how to modify for safety.

Modify Your Down Dog for Safety

To modify down dog for safety, you may wish to keep your knees bent at first, while you are establishing the position. Another priority over straightening your legs is to find the action of your hip joint --it will be a sense of folding, allowing you to bend your body forward toward the floor. To increase the fold at the hips while in the pose, you could think about raising your sitting bones (located at the bottom of your pelvis) up toward the ceiling. This will automatically flex the hip joint more deeply (if the muscles at the back of your legs will allow for it).

Gravity and Your Spine - Reversing the Kinetics

Down dog offers an opportunity to reverse the forces of gravity that usually act on the spine. Pressing your weight into your hands, which in this pose are fixed on the floor, will likely help you descend your shoulders down your back (toward your tailbone.)  Your shoulder blades will move up toward the ceiling, while at the same time moving down your spine.

Descending your shoulder blades will give the upper back enough stability to allow for a refreshing combination of strengthening and stretching of the muscles in that area.


So a key to this position is to pay attention to your shoulder blades which lend support to the upper body.

As you begin to get a sense of security with the position, you can try reaching the rest of your body away from your hands, and allow your shoulder blades to descend down your back even further.

Addressing Kyphosis with Down Dog

Downward facing dog is a good pose to help reverse the effects of kyphosis.

Again, the key is to descend and stabilize those shoulder blades. With your shoulder blades anchored down your back you now have a strong platform against which the upper back muscles can work to extend the spine. Descending the shoulder blades is an action mainly performed by the lats, a big muscle found in the back.

Addressing Flat Low Back Posture with Down Dog

The stretch offered to the back of the legs by down dog (when they are completely straight) can be quite a doozie! But this stretch may be exactly what you need to address flat low back posture if you have it. Of course avoiding injury is very important, so gauge how much straightening you need by the feeling. Once you are confident that you are performing all the points of the pose correctly (remember this is not necessarily fully, just correctly), straighten your legs to a point where you know you can maintain the pose, but you feel some challenge in those hamstrings and/or calves. This is the place of work.

Strengthen the Deep Abdominal Muscles with Down Dog

Down dog helps to strengthen the deep abdominal muscles, which are key for well-supported low back posture.

The action of the hip joint flexing and folding in the front brings the abdominals in close toward the spine, strengthening them.

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