Get up — stretch — ow!
It’s not something you should be saying, or for that matter, feeling as you hop out of bed every morning. But back pain is an unfortunate reality for many, and one of the most common causes is a herniated disc.
A herniated disc, otherwise known as a slipped disc, occurs when one of the fibrous cushioning discs between one’s vertebrae is torn, causing the disc’s gel-like material to spill out and protrude from its position in the spine. Slipped discs are common injuries, and one of the most common causes of neck and back pain, as well as sciatica (radiating pain in the lower back and legs). Whether it’s due to wear or tear, genetics, a direct injury or any number of other factors, however, there are options for recovery and healing.
Yoga can help strengthen your back and relieve some of your back pain. Particular poses, when done carefully, can aid back pain sufferers and help prevent problems in the long run. If you’re embarking on the uphill climb toward recovery, here’s a few reasons why you might plan on starting a morning Sun Salutation (and how it may help you wake up pain-free). Be sure to consult your doctor or general practitioner for further tips and assistance.
Yoga is low impact
Although some forms of yoga include more aerobic and high impact exercises, most yogic practices and yoga exercises are low-impact, meaning they won’t put excess pressure on your healing spine. While you’re recovering from your injury, it’s important to choose stretches and exercises that will aid your healing without overexerting — or re-injuring.
Some practices of yoga emphasize this better than others. Hatha yoga focuses primarily on classic poses (such as the Warrior and Tree poses) with gentle precision. Moving through classic poses slowly, and gently stretching your back (with a mind to the position in which your back was initially injured) can aid you in recovery and range of motion. When practicing any form of yoga, however, be aware of certain poses that could stress your healing back, particularly those that ask you to bend at a 90 degree angle, or otherwise roll or round your spine. The goal is gentle stretching, not over extension!
Yoga practices build bodily awareness
Yoga has existed for just about 5,000 years, and it began as a primarily spiritual practice. Thankfully, yoga has retained much of its spiritual origin, focusing on the unity of body, mind and soul. What this adds up to for a beginning practitioner is lots of meditative exercises, deep breathing, and a renewed focus on the body’s processes.
Yoga’s meditative elements can help those recovering from a slipped disc better look inward. It can help you listen to your body, and more fully understand your body’s limits and capabilities, as well as relieve overall stress. You’d be surprised how effective deep breathing, and, of course, your “Ommm’s” can be when you’re beginning to heal your body and back.
Yoga builds muscle, corrects posture and increases flexibility
Nearly all practices of yoga, be they Bikram or otherwise, promote strength and flexibility, as well as good posture. Each pose in yoga is generally held for a long period of time, or several deep breaths, which can require strength and balance, depending on the pose. Yoga poses promote strength in a variety of areas, including hamstrings, abs and lower back. A sturdier core and back — that is, strengthened abdominal and back muscles — will also aid posture, although you should proceed with ab-specific exercises with care during your recovery process, as some core intensive poses can cause further pain.
Most yoga practices stretch the muscles and promote better lubrication of the joints and tendons, as well as improved blood circulation and lowered blood pressure. Yoga stretches focus on the diaphragm and on lengthening and correctly aligning the spine, aiding injured practitioners in relieving pain and pressure. More specific yoga practices, such as Iyengar yoga, a precise version that uses yoga props intended to help practitioners correctly pose, are often most helpful for back pain sufferers. A regular daily practice of low-impact yoga poses will likely yield improved flexibility and overall strength and, over time, much reduced pain.
Yoga can help prevent further damage to the spine
Good posture pays off. Because yoga practices rely so much on perfecting individual poses, Yoga can aid the realignment of the spine, as well as healthier back habits. Poses that help straighten the spine and improve overall back strength can protect your spine from further injury.
Yoga’s focus on increased overall awareness and meditation may also help you in the process of recovery. Becoming more aware of your body and of more painful movements can help guide you further towards the health of your back and spine, avoiding painful or injurious movements and targeting your more painful areas.
There are still more reasons why you might take up yoga to help heal a herniated disc or to promote overall well-being. As you begin your new yoga practices, be aware of any pain, numbness, or discomfort as you exercise to avoid injury. Focus on deep breathes and precision of movement.
Jayson Goetz believes there are many solutions to your back pain. Having personally suffered from back pain, he has tried them all. He started writing in hope of sharing his experiences with those who are looking for help. Jayson is based in Phoenix, Arizona.