How to deal with back pain?

General discussion of issues related to Theravada Meditation, e.g. meditation postures, developing a regular sitting practice, skillfully relating to difficulties and hindrances, etc.

How to deal with back pain?

Postby pilgrim » Wed Jan 29, 2014 1:38 am

Specifically, when sitting cross legged, my pain develops below my right shoulder blade after many hours of sitting (with intervals of rest). But it can be excruciating and the pain passes right through my body to my chest. I relieve it temporarily by shifting to a side sitting posture, putting more weight on my left buttock. But after awhile, as almost all the weight is on the left, a similar pain develops on this side.

Does anyone else have the same problem ? How do you deal with it? Any specific exercise for this particular muscle?
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Re: How to deal with back pain?

Postby SarathW » Wed Jan 29, 2014 1:44 am

Yes I have the same.
Pain is your best friend. Pay attention to it.
Grin and bear it!
:)
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Re: How to deal with back pain?

Postby pilgrim » Wed Jan 29, 2014 1:47 am

SarathW wrote:Yes I have the same.
Pain is your best friend. Pay attention to it.
Grin and bear it!
:)

It makes a strong meditation object, but I'm getting tired of it being the sole meditation object. :tantrum:
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Re: How to deal with back pain?

Postby SarathW » Wed Jan 29, 2014 1:48 am

Well you only need one!!!
:console:
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Re: How to deal with back pain?

Postby Justsit » Wed Jan 29, 2014 1:48 am

Are you sitting directly on the floor, or on a cushion?
Sitting on a cushion with your hips elevated slightly higher than your knees can prevent most back pains.

Also, you may want to try shorter sitting periods...and don't forget to relax. Not too tight, not too loose.
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Re: How to deal with back pain?

Postby pilgrim » Wed Jan 29, 2014 2:13 am

I sit on a cushion with my hips higher than my knees. I've determined the problem to be the body's inability to sustain an unmoving weight for a period of time. The only solution I've come up with is to shift the weight around periodically and like you said, sit for shorter periods and rest longer. Not very good when one is trying to get into deeper concentration.

This must be a common problem as I am lean and my weight is below the average. So I was wondering if anyone managed to work out specific solutions to the problem.
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Re: How to deal with back pain?

Postby culaavuso » Wed Jan 29, 2014 2:27 am

You might try lengthening and straightening your spine. One reason this kind of pain can happen is from leaning slightly to the left or right with the body or with the head, causing an imbalance in the muscles trying to hold everything straight. Sometimes it's a sign that the shoulder, upper back, or lower neck muscles are being held tense without realizing it and some body scanning in that area or trying to breathe through the tension can release it. Sometimes it's a result of another injury in the back or shoulder area, and the muscle tension is a response of trying to protect the injury which actually makes things worse. In that case the previous steps still help, try to carefully balance the body so that the injury won't be aggravated and then with that balance try to release the tense muscles.

If the problem is simply that the muscle is too weak to hold the body up straight then it will work itself out by simply maintaining a regular sitting practice. It's easy to have a slouched posture throughout the day, and formal sitting practice might be the only time when the spine is really held properly straight for long periods of time. This can be quite a workout for muscles that aren't used to it, and that might cause significant pain to arise in the muscles. If this is the cause, it should get better over time as the muscles get stronger from regular sitting practice. Trying to maintain proper posture throughout the day might help, as well.

If you sit cross legged, it's also helpful to switch leg positions each time in terms of left or right leg being on top or in front (depending on position you're using). The slight imbalance in leg position can cause a slight imbalance in hip position which can cause a slight imbalance in lower back position and so on, which can result in an imbalance at the upper back and neck which lead to this kind of tension. Switching position each time helps keep the muscle load more balanced over time.

If none of this works, you might be able to discover some other solution through your own experimentation. The cause and effect of what causes the pain isn't the ideal meditation object, but you might be able to learn something that allows you to make the pain subside. Meditation lying down is not ideal because of the issue of drowsiness, but if you can't manage to sit it's better than nothing.

Finally, if you're just going to push through the pain and meditate anyway or if you're trying to maintain your practice through an injury such as a strained muscle causing the pain, then you might be interested in A Good Dose of Dhamma: For Meditators When They Are Ill. The talks there can be helpful and motivational when dealing with intense pain during meditation sessions.
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Re: How to deal with back pain?

Postby pilgrim » Wed Jan 29, 2014 2:33 am

Thanks culaavuso, the 2nd para may be applicable to me.
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Re: How to deal with back pain?

Postby Goofaholix » Wed Jan 29, 2014 2:39 am

A rule of thumb is that if the pain disappears soon as you get up and start moving around then you're not doing yourself any harm and it's probably worth trying to work with it in your meditation to the degree that you can without too much anguish.

If the pain stays with you after you get up and start moving around then you're doing yourself harm, so sit in a chair or try other postures or take more breaks, there's no shame in that.

If the pain is in your upper back I think it's likely to be related to too much tension or the position of your arms, if in the lower back then it's your sitting position, it's sounds like yours is in the middle though so I'm not sure.

If you're sitting crosslegged the most important thing is that the knees are on the ground and the back is straight, if you can't do that then it's better not to sit crosslegged until you can train yourself to be able to, use the butterfly stretch and other yoga postures.
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Re: How to deal with back pain?

Postby Mkoll » Wed Jan 29, 2014 6:37 am

Hi pilgrim,

I had back pain, mostly running down my QL muscle from around the shoulder blade down towards the hip on one side. It usually kicked in around the 30 minute mark and was painful enough that it became my primary object of meditation. I tried yoga, changing my sitting position, sitting on a seiza bench, and sitting in a chair - nothing really helped.

I've been seeing an experienced Rolfing/Structural Integration practitioner and I haven't had this back pain since. I've been pleasantly surprised about the results. It's expensive but health is priceless. I suggest getting some professional bodywork done by an experienced practitioner if you can afford it and you've exhausted other options.

There are some things that no amount of self-manipulation or exercise or yoga or whatever can do - sometimes one just needs the helping hands of another.

:anjali:
Peace,
James
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Re: How to deal with back pain?

Postby Sati1 » Wed Jan 29, 2014 8:27 am

I find that meditating with back support helps. On the long-run, stretching of back, legs and achilles heel might help.
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"So this spiritual life, monks, does not have gain, honor, and renown for its benefit, or the attainment of moral discipline for its benefit, or the attainment of concentration for its benefit, or knowledge and vision for its benefit. But it is this unshakable liberation of mind that is the goal of this spiritual life, its heartwood, and its end," (MN 29, transl. Ven Bhikkhu Bodhi)
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Re: How to deal with back pain?

Postby Babadhari » Wed Jan 29, 2014 7:40 pm

pilgrim wrote:Thanks culaavuso, the 2nd para may be applicable to me.

hi pilgrim
perhaps doing situps or some other core strengthening exercise may be of benefit, starting slowly of course to avoid aggravating any existing condition
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Aflame, with birth, aging & death, with sorrows, lamentations, pains, distresses, & despairs ......

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Re: How to deal with back pain?

Postby Aloka » Wed Jan 29, 2014 8:39 pm

Sit in a straight backed chair if you have ongoing pain issues. You may find that your meditation improves when your position is less painful and tense.

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Re: How to deal with back pain?

Postby ibraimbeno » Mon Aug 04, 2014 8:49 pm

hello pilgrim. you are not the only person who face back pain, i can guaranty to you that any human have high rate of facing back pain sooner or later specialty in our time while we sitting so much and we moving a little.
i suggest any human to read books about back pain, for know how to trait his/her back before feel pain, also how to deal with pain and how to avoid wrong movement that can up your pain, for that reason i create a list of :rules: "17 Little Known Back Pain Books That Work", so at less pick one and read it, because the information inside are tested and from doctors, while you can make big damage in your back if you follow every tips you read in sites and forums.
good luck
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Re: How to deal with back pain?

Postby Mkoll » Mon Aug 04, 2014 9:08 pm

ibraimbeno wrote:hello pilgrim. you are not the only person who face back pain, i can guaranty to you that any human have high rate of facing back pain sooner or later specialty in our time while we sitting so much and we moving a little.
i suggest any human to read books about back pain, for know how to trait his/her back before feel pain, also how to deal with pain and how to avoid wrong movement that can up your pain, for that reason i create a list of :rules: "17 Little Known Back Pain Books That Work", so at less pick one and read it, because the information inside are tested and from doctors, while you can make big damage in your back if you follow every tips you read in sites and forums.
good luck

Thanks for sharing, that's good of you.

:thanks:
Peace,
James
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Re: How to deal with back pain?

Postby m0rl0ck » Mon Aug 04, 2014 10:41 pm

pilgrim wrote:
This must be a common problem as I am lean and my weight is below the average. So I was wondering if anyone managed to work out specific solutions to the problem.


I have occasional back pain that goes away or is greatly ameliorated when i start doing yoga for a while. I think the pain i experience is a caused by a mixture of weak back muscles, bad alignment and tension and the yoga puts everything straight and strengthens and relaxes the back muscles.
"When you meditate, don't send your mind outside. Don't fasten onto any knowledge at all. Whatever knowledge you've gained from books or teachers, don't bring it in to complicate things. Cut away all preoccupations, and then as you meditate let all your knowledge come from what's going on in the mind. When the mind is quiet, you'll know it for yourself. But you have to keep meditating a lot. When the time comes for things to develop, they'll develop on their own. Whatever you know, have it come from your own mind.
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Re: How to deal with back pain?

Postby thepea » Tue Aug 05, 2014 1:30 am

pilgrim wrote: The only solution I've come up with is to shift the weight around periodically and like you said, sit for shorter periods and rest longer. Not very good when one is trying to get into deeper concentration.


As Goofaholix said if the pain subsides after you get up from seated meditation then you are in a position to observe this sensation. Be careful about placing importance on getting into deeper states of concentration, better to remain aware of the changing nature of concentration. If we work to hard we create self, if we do not work hard enough we suffer from sloth and torpor. Finding this delicate balance is challenging, we need to develop compassion for ourselves, how we treat ourselves is how we will treat others.

This is most likely a knot that has come to the surface and will work itself out, as previously expressed you are lucky to have this crop up. For me this is the practice, learning to observe these sensations, to study them as they manifest and strengthen and eventually subside, learning to simply sit with them and observe them in a detatched way, watching the mind react towards them and letting go of the reaction. With time this should naturally dissolve away but you don't know how long this will take.

I would suggest remaining on the ground as opposed to moving to a chair, we want to be careful not to practice avoidance. But as said be kind to yourself, you have to learn to work off your karmic debt.
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Re: How to deal with back pain?

Postby atipattoh » Tue Aug 05, 2014 3:50 pm

pilgrim wrote:Specifically, when sitting cross legged, my pain develops below my right shoulder blade after many hours of sitting (with intervals of rest). But it can be excruciating and the pain passes right through my body to my chest. I relieve it temporarily by shifting to a side sitting posture, putting more weight on my left buttock. But after awhile, as almost all the weight is on the left, a similar pain develops on this side.

Does anyone else have the same problem ? How do you deal with it? Any specific exercise for this particular muscle?


Try to check your hand position. Is your arm too close to your body? When it is too close to your body, there can be blockage at a point right beside the blade. The bone is pressing towards center. A lump is form that causing the pain. If this is the case, you need to get another person to help you release the blockage, i mean you need a traditional massage. Or can try imaging throwing baseball, then swing your hand full force. Some time it does work. But the lump will come very soon for frequent sitter or right after a retreat.
after you get this done, next time when you sit, sit with slight open arms and form a more round curve posture with your hand.
May google 'somdej wrk amulet', that is a better hand posture reference.
Hopes it help though is a bit 'late'!
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Re: How to deal with back pain?

Postby martinfrank » Tue Aug 05, 2014 5:13 pm

Before I learned to sit in padmasana, I used a kneeling position which is used in India mainly by women, with the buttocks in the open palms of the feet. There are variations to it but they allow for a straight spine - important in yoga meditation. You could use such a position to relieve your back. Kneeling allows for intense concentration too.

Are you sure you're not trying to sit too long? You will still achieve high concentration if you do walking or reclining meditation for a few minutes every 30 minutes. If you achieve higher concentration, the back pain will vanish, but it seems at your present level you are torturing yourself.

Shifting to the right or left buttock (I know well what you mean, I've done it too) is a bad idea because your spine will be bent and then the whole point of sitting upright is gone. What happens if you sit without a pillow? Can you sit in half lotus position?

Like the other posters, I believe that your back pain is from a "knot" or tension in your back muscles. If you can feel the point, the pain may vanish if you focus on it. If not, it is best to change position every 30 minutes or less. High concentration doesn't depend on extra long sessions. More on making decisive steps, breaking through, letting go, knowing what you want to achieve in your session, don't you think?

QiGong helps me to get my body relaxed in the morning... 5 minutes is enough!
The Noble Eightfold Path: Proposed to all, imposed on none.
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Re: How to deal with back pain?

Postby bodom » Tue Aug 05, 2014 5:40 pm

I hope this advice from Ashin Tejaniya is helpful to you:

PAIN / UNPLEASANT SENSATIONS / EMOTIONS

When you experience pains, aches and other bodily discomforts, it means you have a mental resistance to them and therefore you are not ready yet to observe these unpleasant physical sensations directly. Nobody likes pain and if you observe it while still feeling any resistance towards it, it will become worse. It is like when you are angry with someone; if you look at that person again and again you will become even angrier. So never force yourself to observe pain; this is not a fi ght, this is a learning opportunity. You are not observing pain to lessen it or to make it go away. You are observing it – especially your mental reactions to it – in order to understand the connection between your mental reactions and your perception of the physical sensations. Check your attitude fi rst. Wishing for the pain to decrease or go away is the wrong attitude. It does not matter whether the pain goes away or not. Pain is not the problem; your negative mental reaction to it is the problem. If the pain is caused by some kind of injury you should of course be careful not to make things worse, but if you are well and healthy, pain is simply an important opportunity to practise watching the mind at work. When there is pain, the mental feelings and reactions are strong and therefore easy to observe. Learn to watch anger or resistance, tension or discomfort in your mind. If necessary, alternate between checking your feelings and the attitude behind your resistance. Keep reminding yourself to relax the mind and the body, and observe how it affects your mental resistance. There is a direct link between your state of mind and pain. The more relaxed and calm the observing mind, the less intense you will perceive the pain to be. Of course, if your mind reacts strongly to the pain (i.e. if you experience pain as unbearable) you should change your posture and make yourself comfortable. So if you want to learn how to deal with pain skilfully, try this: From the moment you start feeling pain, no matter how weak it is, check your mind and body for tension, and relax. Part of your mind will remain aware of the pain. So check for tension again and again, and relax. Also check your attitude and keep reminding yourself that you have the choice to change your posture if you experience too much pain, as this will make the mind more willing to work with it. Keep repeating this until you no longer feel you want to watch the tension, the fear, the desire to get up, or the unwillingness to stay with the pain. Now you should change your posture. When you are able to bear with pain, it does not mean that you are equanimous. Most of us start off by trying hard to sit for a fi xed period of time, forcing ourselves not to move. If we succeed to sit for that full hour we feel great, otherwise we feel we have failed. We usually try to bear the pain longer and longer, i.e. we work on increasing our threshold of pain. However, in this process we neglect watching the mind and we are not really aware of our mental reactions to the pain. We fail to realize that developing a high threshold of pain does not mean that the mind is not reacting to the pain. If you stop forcing yourself to sit for a fi xed period of time and instead start watching the mental reactions in the ways described above, your resistance to the pain will gradually decrease and your mind will become more equanimous. Understanding the difference between equanimity and being able to bear with pain is really important. Mindfulness meditation is not about forcing but about under standing. Real equanimity is the result of true understanding of the nature of liking and disliking through observation and investigation. It is best to look at pain directly only if you cannot feel a resistance to it. Keep in mind that there may be a reaction at a subtle level. As soon as you recognize mental discomfort, turn your attention to that feeling. If you can see subtle mental discomfort, watch it change; does it increase or decrease? As the mind becomes more equanimous and sensitive it will recognize subtle reactions more easily. When you look at mental discomfort at a more subtle level you may get to the point when your mind feels completely equanimous. If you look at pain directly and if there is true equanimity, mental discomfort will not arise anymore. Remember that you are not looking at the reactions of the mind to make them go away. Always take reactions as an opportunity to investigate their nature. Ask yourself questions! How do they make you feel? What thoughts are in your mind? How does what you think affect the way you feel? How does what you feel affect the way you think? What is the attitude behind the thoughts? How does any of this change the way you perceive pain?


http://sayadawutejaniya.org/teachings/

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The heart of the path is SO simple. No need for long explanations. Give up clinging to love and hate, just rest with things as they are. That is all I do in my own practice. Do not try to become anything. Do not make yourself into anything. Do not be a meditator. Do not become enlightened. When you sit, let it be. When you walk, let it be. Grasp at nothing. Resist nothing. Of course, there are dozens of meditation techniques to develop samadhi and many kinds of vipassana. But it all comes back to this - just let it all be. Step over here where it is cool, out of the battle. - Ajahn Chah
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