Yoga for Spinal Stenosis
Spinal stenosis can cause severe back and severe neck pain, both acute and chronic, and many rely on analgesic and anti-inflammatory medications to manage this pain. Stenosis is the most common reason for spine surgery in older adults, and the diagnosis of spinal stenosis is estimated to increase by 59% between now and 2025 in those over 65 years of age. Alternative treatments can be extremely effective however, and may remove or reduce the need for these medications. In addition, many alternative health care practices can prevent, or reduce the likelihood, of chronic degenerative illnesses such as spinal stenosis; yoga in particular, which is recommended by the American College of Physicians and the American Pain Society.
How Yoga Helps
Yoga’s ability to correct postural alignment issues, increase flexibility, and strengthen core supporting muscles makes it an ideal practice for those suffering, or worrying about, spinal stenosis. As stenosis is usually a degenerative condition, worsening with age, and impacting upon flexibility, and range of motion, daily, or even just weekly, yoga can help relieve tension in the spine, alleviate pain, aid relaxation in general and slow down spinal degeneration. By stretching out the spinal column the pressure on nerve roots due to the stenosis may be both temporarily, and over time more permanently, relieved, with concomitant effects on the experience of pain, paraesthesia, and weakness. Several studies have shown yoga to be effective, amongst other alternative treatments such as qi gong, tai chi, and biofeedback, at reducing pain in chronic conditions. One study found a one week intensive yoga retreat more effective at increasing flexion and extension, and reducing pain-related disability in patients with chronic back pain than a comparable regime of physical exercises.
Easing into Yoga
Some cautions apply with any therapeutic intervention for spinal stenosis. Carrying out backward bends in yoga may exacerbate a condition as these can compact the spinal canal, and cause the stenotic region to become narrower still. Forward bends are more likely to provide relief from the pain of spinal stenosis. Positions such as the cat, where the back is arched are particularly helpful for those with pinched nerves due to spinal stenosis. If there is lateral stenosis in the spine, then side bends are likely to aid in opening up that area and providing relief from the pain of the condition. Generally yoga poses are conducted in pairs, with a forward bend complimented by a backward bend, a good practitioner will be able to assist with this for those with specific conditions. Practicing safe yoga for spinal stenosis will often involve working with a yoga teacher with experience treating patients with back pain, in order to devise a therapeutic yoga programme rather than simply jumping straight into headstands and back bends.
Yoga Positions and Poses
Postures which are particularly helpful to strengthen core muscles, promote good posture, and lengthen the spine are those such as Mountain, Staff, Downward Dog, Happy Baby, and Bound Angle. Warming up through gentle walking, or cycling, before attempting stretches is important, so as not to strain the muscles. Stretches should be held for 60-90 seconds to be optimally effective, but shorter holds to begin, with a number of repetitions, are excellent as the patient builds on their flexibility. Remembering to breathe and relax into the poses is important, as holding your breath whilst stretching causes the muscles to tense and may lead to injury.
Check out the yoga poses gallery below, click an image to enlarge:
Why Yoga Helps
Whether you have a case of burning neck pain or a condition such as spinal stenosis, yoga exercises help lengthen shortened muscles, aids relaxations, increases blood circulation and promotes the elimination of toxins from tissues, and increases the flexibility and strength of the spine. As yoga is a mind and body therapy it can also aid those suffering from chronic pain with the management of that pain and may even help reduce the need for back pain medications. By improving general well-being and mood, patients are less likely to feel fatigued by their pain and can achieve a better quality of life.