Yoga can be a safe way to move your body and maintain mobility when you have a herniated disc, sometimes called a bulging disc. As yoga offers numerous variations, there are always ways to modify poses in ways that support your spine and prevent further aggravating of your back. It is important to keep moving even with a herniated disc. This is known as active recovery. Active recovery prevents stiffness and tension from making your condition worse. As yoga can be a gentle, full-body practice, it is a great option for staying active while dealing with a herniated disc.
HOW HERNIATED DISCS HAPPEN
Herniated discs are most often caused by the natural wear and tear on the body that comes from aging. As you age, the discs between your vertebrae dry out and become more prone to tearing or rupturing. They are often a result of strain on the back. This strain can come from lifting a heavy load using your back muscles instead of your leg muscles or lifting something while your spine is twisted. Whatever the caue of your herniated disc, here are some yoga tips that will help keep you limber on your yoga mat.
HOW TO MODIFY YOUR YOGA PRACTICE FOR A HERNIATED DISC
TIP ONE: CHOOSE A GENTLE PRACTICE
Pick a class that is slow moving so you have plenty of time to get in and out of poses. Avoid classes that are fast-paced and vigorous as you may feel the need to keep up and risk injury.
TIP TWO: TRY HOT YOGA
If you can find a gentle practice in a heated room, even better. The heat will add a natural limberness to your muscles that will help you avoid straining your back—or anything else—in your practice. That being said, be mindful not to go too deep into postures just because you can.
TIP THREE: GET AN EXPERIENCED TEACHER
If you are practicing yoga under the guidance of a certified yoga teacher, make sure they have experience with teaching students with herniated discs. While your physiotherapist will no doubt give you a laundry list of what you should and shouldn’t do, it’s always good to have someone else looking out for you. Let the teacher know beforehand that you have a herniated disc and will be modifying your practice accordingly.
TIP FOUR: USE PROPS
Blocks, blankets, straps and bolsters are your new best friends. Grab them at the beginning of class and use them to support your body throughout practice. Using props will allow you to go safely into poses that you would otherwise have to avoid because of your herniated disc. While your practice may feel clunky in the beginning, after awhile you will be abIe to find a flow that works for you. If you are ever unsure if there is a way to use props to modify a pose, ask the teacher.
TIP FIVE: AVOID DEEP FORWARD FOLDS
While moving your spine will be beneficial, overdoing it should be avoided. Until you get the go-ahead from your physiotherapist, do not bend forward past 90° with non-bent knees. This will keep your spine in a more neutral position. If you are taking a slight forward fold in a pose, bring a generous bend into your knees and keep your spine neutral. Let your leg, glute and hamstring strength lift you out of the forward fold.
TIP SIX: AVOID SEATED FORWARD FOLDS
As your spine will automatically be at a 90° angle when you are seated, do not forward fold from a seated position. You can sit up on a block to help you find a tall spine in whatever pose you are doing. Bend the knees to further relieve tension on the back while seated.
TIP SEVEN: AVOID ROUNDING YOUR BACK
When you round your back in yoga, you compress the front of your spinal column. This essentially puts an uneven amount of tension on your spinal discs. Compressing your discs in this way can further exacerbate the herniation and is best avoided.
TIP EIGHT: AVOID DEEP TWISTS
Similar to deep forward folds, deep twists can aggravate a herniated disc. So when you are twisting in yoga, only move until you feel the first bit of gentle resistance in your back. When you reach that edge, turn your focus to your breath and think about relaxing the muscles of your back. If a counter twist feels good after your initial twist, make sure it is gentle as well.
TIP NINE: IF IT DOESN’T FEEL GOOD, DON’T DO IT!
Your back will let you know if something doesn’t feel okay. Stop right away if you feel any pain, tingling or numbness. Also, remember to move slowly in and out of poses so you can avoid sudden flare-ups. Take rest whenever you need to and trust that you know best.
If you are looking for other ways to move your body, take a look at this post to get moving again with low-impact cardio options.