Gentle Yoga for Post-Op Back Pain

Reclining Twist is a gentle movement to relieve back pain.

Reclining Twist is a gentle movement to relieve back pain.

Yoga offers a means to ease your body gently back into movement and avoid stiffness from inactivity in your post-surgery recovery period. Heavy lifting and strenuous cardiovascular exercises tend to put too much strain on your body while it is recuperating. However, gentle yoga classes can function as a form of physical therapy. You can even practice gentle yoga stretches in bed. Remember to consult your doctor about any movement routine you perform during your recovery period. Also stay tuned into your body's responses to stretching to avoid straining yourself by going too deep or too long.

Lie on your back in bed with both knees bent and the soles of your feet on the mattress. Place bolsters or folded blankets to either side of your legs. Exhale and slowly lower your thighs to the left. Inhale as you bring your legs back up to the beginning position. As your legs sink down toward to one side, extend your arm along the mattress to the opposite side and turn your head to gaze at your outreaching arm. When you feel ready, exhale and repeat to the opposite side, then return to your beginning position.

Extend your left leg straight out from your body, so your heel remains on the mattress and your toes point upward. Then draw your right leg toward you and loop your yoga strap or belt around the sole of your foot. Exhale as you extend your right leg straight up toward the ceiling, pulling on the ends of the strap to draw the leg as close to the upper body as you comfortably can. Resist your foot against the strap so you feel a stretch not just up the back of your leg but into your lower back. Then bend your right leg, removing the strap and lowering the foot down to the mattress. Repeat the same stretch with the left leg reaching upward and your right leg on the bed. Then return to your starting position with knees bent, feet flat on the bed.

Bring your right knee slowly toward your chest on an exhalation, permitting your left leg to remain still, with the knee bent and foot on the bed. Clasp your bent right leg with your arms or yoga strap for a few breaths, drawing the thigh close to your chest. Lower your foot back to the mattress, then repeat the movement to the opposite side. This movement, known as apanasana or Knee to Chest post, relieves any pain due to compression of the vertebrae.

Items you will need

  • Mattress
  • Yoga bolster or four to six folded blankets
  • Yoga strap or fabric belt


  • When you feel stronger, you may want to take private yoga classes with a certified yoga teacher experienced in adaptive yoga therapy. Another possibility is to take a chair yoga class at a rehabilitation center. You can also look for classes at yoga studios called "Restorative Yoga" or "Very Gentle Yoga." You may also seek out videos of these types of yoga if there is not a class convenient to you.


  • If you take a class, inform your yoga instructor of your condition so she can help you adapt movements to your body. If you practice yoga on your own at home, move slowly and gently. Yoga, like any style of movement, can cause injury if you push too hard too soon after surgery.

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  • Yoga as Medicine; Timothy McCall, M.D.
  • Structural Yoga Therapy: Adapting to the Individual; Mukanda Stiles

Photo Credits

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