Yoga Poses for Back Pain

The Cat-Cow Stretch

A woman is positioned in the all 4s or table top exercise position.
Exercise routines for people with back pain should start in supported positions.

Yoga Poses for Back Pain

The Cat-Cow Stretch

Yoga poses can help you prevent or manage back pain if you know what you're doing and you work wisely.  

In this article, we'll go over how and why to do a yoga cat-cow stretch.  This yoga pose makes a great addition to many a daily back fitness routine.  Lets explore to see if it will work for you.

The Cat-Cow Stretch offers a number of back benefits including:

  • establishing and teaching you key points of ideal spinal alignment
  • stretching back muscles
  • strengthening back muscles
  • strengthening your core
  • developing coordination
  • helping you to distinguish between and skillfully employ body stability and body mobility

Cat - Cow Yoga Pose - Start Position

Position yourself on your hands and knees, with your wrists under your shoulders and your knees under your hips.  Try to keep a slight bend in your elbows.  (This is to protect the joint.)

The cat-cow start position allows your spinal alignment to occupy a supported and centered position. Doing the pose regularly will give you a sense of what this feels like and, in turn, will likely help develop your balance.

Cat - Cow Yoga Pose - The Moves

  1. To make the cat move, you'll round your spine (which is called flexing the spine.)  But if you have disc issues, be careful of flexion.  Spinal flexion is known to elicit symptoms related to disc problems.  
    • Try to include your entire spine when you make the cat move.  Many people - especially those of us with very tight low back muscles - tend to move only the head, shoulder and upper back areas.  But the cat portion of this yoga pose yields the best benefit when you also round your lower back.  
    • If you are tight, this may be challenging at first.  But if you persist with the effort, it will likely result in a very nice stretch in that area.
    • By the way, when you're in the cat, the back muscles stretch and the ab muscles contract.
  1. To make the cow move, you'll reverse the direction of your spine.  In other words, arch your back.  If you have spinal arthritis or facet joint pain, go easy or skip this part depending on how you feel.  Arching may make symptoms of these conditions worse.
    • Again, try to include your entire spine from head to tail.
    • When you're in the cow, the back muscles contract and the abs tend to stretch.

    2 Yoga Poses in One

    By now, you've likely noticed that the cat-cow yoga pose is contains a pelvic tilt movement. Like the pelvic tilt, the cat-cow stretch provides flexion and extension of the spine. Unlike the pelvic tilt, in the cat-cow you are also balancing yourself on all fours, so your muscles - and your brain - have to work harder to keep you in good alignment. And, by being on all 4s in the cat-cow, you have a different spatial orientation than in the pelvic tilt. In this way, the pose challenges and develops your whole body coordination.

    I like this yoga pose because it offers a fairly easy way to experience ideal spinal alignment from head to pelvis, with no parts left out. Each area of your spine participates as a meaningful part of the whole.  The cat cow pose is a closed-kinetic chain exercise where your hands and knees act as stabilizing posts into the floor, allowing the most spinal movement possible, while still maintaining balance, form and good posture.

    If you're ready to try another one, how about a Yoga Sun Salutation Your Back Will Love?

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