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Yoga for Back Pain - Cobra Pose

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Updated April 19, 2007

Yoga for Back Pain - Cobra Pose

Cobra Concerns

While the cobra pose is a pose that many people readily associate with yoga, this does not automatically guarantee its safety for all types of back problems. The basic movement of the cobra is to arch the spine backward. People with facet joint problems, for example, spondylolisthesis, should approach cobra pose cautiously, if at all. Facet joint problems tend to become irritated when the spine is arched. Ask your doctor or physical therapist if this pose is okay for your condition.

Modify the Cobra for Safety

To modify cobra, treat 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 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.

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

Another way to modify the cobra for safety is to place your forearms on the floor, rather than 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.

Strengthening Back Muscles

Because the cobra pose extends your spine backward, it will work the muscles of your back. If you follow the instructions carefully, you will also strengthen the muscles in your pelvis, and your lower abdominals, which are located in front. 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 has been shown to alleviate the symptoms associated with disk problems. This, of course, will vary by individual, but if your doctor or physical therapist has cleared you for exercise, a cobra pose modified so that it does not create pain may help your disk symptoms.

Follow Up With a Gentle Stretch to the Low Back

Cobra is an intense move for the spine and back muscles. Following up with a gentle back stretch is a good idea, to keep muscles in balance. Child's pose is an ideal follow up to the Cobra.

Test Your Yoga for Back Pain Knowledge

Knowing when to do a potentially harmful pose such as cobra, and when to refrain may be easier as an educated consumer of yoga for back pain. Take the Yoga for Back Pain quiz to find any gaps in your knowlege on the subject.

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

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