Will yoga help my herniated disc?
April 21, 2011 9:12 PM   Subscribe

I have a mild herniated L5 disc. It's been causing me continual back pain, and pain in my left leg. I've heard that yoga can help build strength and help with the pain. Is this true?

So I am not a yogi. And obviously you are not a doctor. But does yoga help for herniated discs? My own doctor said to do it, but then a friend said that he read that rounding the back poses could be bad for the spine.

Also, what types of yoga should I stay away from? I'm such a noob that even trying to understand what the various types of yoga are... don't really mean anything to me. Anyone out there who had a similar problem and found that yoga greatly helped? Thanks!
posted by PostIronyIsNotaMyth to Health & Fitness (17 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Not yoga, but McKenzie therapy (which borrows from body positioning to alieviate pain) worked wonders for me. Look up the book "Treat Your Own Back." Find a PT who uses Mckenzie, go see them, and get the proper idea of what to do, and how to do it.

Take it from someone who's had two (yes, two) L5 discectomies. You do not want to mess up your back any more than it already is. Therapy and stretching should help you get to a healthy baseline. I'd say (IANAD/PT) to avoid surgery, if at all possible.
posted by Ghidorah at 9:33 PM on April 21, 2011

I also have an injured back. I'd avoid yoga as possibly being a bit too much stress on the spine. I'm finding Tai Chi to be very helpful in gently strengthening the muscles and relieving the pain in both leg and back, though it took a while to find a Tai Chi teacher that seemed right.
posted by anadem at 9:40 PM on April 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

I've never had a herniated disc, but I used to have pretty bad back pain and sciatic nerve issues. I've found yoga has helped reduce my back pain, but probably not more than any other regular exercise and stretching that I've done (I do a lot of running and weight lifting now). If you do decide to try yoga, you should find a place that offers a beginner class, or look for the word "restorative." These classes usually offer lighter poses, and less of the back curving stuff. If you tell the instructor what your specific injury is, they'll be able to offer you modifications for poses that might not be good for your back. But definitely be careful! Keep in mind that yoga instructors aren't medical professionals, and they might not be able to tell you what will actually help, and what might end up harming your back more. It's probably a good idea to seek out a good science-based physical therapist first. A PT should be able to help you with exercises and stretches that will reduce pain, and answer any questions you might have about trying yoga, or what not to do. Good luck!
posted by lexicakes at 9:42 PM on April 21, 2011 [3 favorites]

There's a number of studies in pub med. This study was on iyengar yoga which I have never done. I liked viniyoga the best but mainly because I had a teacher that I liked, and incorporated ayurveda into the yoga routines--- oh fun.

"Univariate analyses of medical and functional outcomes revealed significant reductions in pain intensity (64%), functional disability (77%) and pain medication usage (88%) in the yoga group at the post and 3-month follow-up assessments."

Also you may be delighted to know that, "Yoga was more effective than a self-care book for improving function and reducing chronic low back pain, and the benefits persisted for at least several months."

Hatha yoga is probably the most common form of yoga taught in beginner classes. I would avoid kundalini or anything that promises something intense. You would definately want to talk to your doctor first and inform your instructor about the condition. Also, while every yoga teacher should tell you this--- if it doesn't feel right, don't do it. If something is painful you should only do such a movement if a professional physical therapist or your doctor specifically tells you it's safe. Sharp acute pain means stop immediately. And if it's sort of painful don't be afraid to stop the pose before the instructor says so. It should give you a good feeling like it naturally feels good to stretch your arms in the morning.

And interestingly they are planning a study to measure the results of normal stretching vs yoga for chronic back pain. As none of these studies specifically mentioned herniated discs, I would again say talk to your doctor first!

Oh wait, this one is about degenerative disc disease using magnetic resoning to study the discs of long term yoga practitioners vs non practitoners and they seemed to find better disc health in the yoga group.
posted by xarnop at 9:53 PM on April 21, 2011 [3 favorites]

also what lexicakes says. I'm worried about a yoga practitioner claiming they know what's safe with this.
posted by xarnop at 9:54 PM on April 21, 2011

I would seriously recommend talking to a PT before starting any yoga program. Every body is different, but I've herniated a disc at L5-S1 and my own PT has encouraged me not to go back to yoga. ("Yoga's great, but for you -- no," she said. "Stick with Pilates. Maybe some Tai Chi.") For me, forward flexion was difficult, but the real killer was the twisting. Even a lot of asanas that aren't necessarily what you'd consider twists can involve rotation in the lower lumbar.

I've seen yoga be great for that common sort of nonspecific low back pain that a lot of folks have, but a known disc herniation is a horse of a different color. You want to be careful with it. Re-injuring a herniated disc is really, really not fun.
posted by sculpin at 10:00 PM on April 21, 2011 [4 favorites]

I did all my PT and my insurance doesn't cover any more...
posted by PostIronyIsNotaMyth at 11:27 PM on April 21, 2011

Gah. I just can't seem to get well. This has been going for almost three months now. I'm in pain every day, and it shoots down my legs and my knees. Driving is terrible. I want this to end.
posted by PostIronyIsNotaMyth at 11:57 PM on April 21, 2011

I have a herniated disc and have found that yoga is a great help with the resulting pain. Basically I experiemented with different poses and found some that work for me. it has never, ever, made the pain worse. I've had days where the pain starts, but I do yoga and am able to completely stave it off/stop it.

I don't do yoga as often as before (but I do use it when I feel pain coming on). I do work out 3-5 times a week though and I've found that building muscle and getting blood circulating has greatly lessoned the incidences of pain.
posted by bearette at 11:58 PM on April 21, 2011

I herniated a disc in a caving accident about five years ago and had three or four months of the pain you describe, being unable to walk more than a few steps, sleep on a bed or sneeze without getting shot in the back for the first month. It was horrible, particularly the sciatica which is like being electrocuted for those who've never had the pleasure of it. The pain did become more manageable though and I found being able to start running again really helped strengthen my back. I've never been into yoga so I can't tell you anything about that, but if you get through the worst of it and then exercise to get fit again you can be confident things will get better. You'll never be 100%, but if you're like me you'll eventually be able to get away with just a bit of soreness or stiffness now and then when you're tired.
posted by joannemullen at 3:50 AM on April 22, 2011

I have 2 horribly herniated discs and found that the only thing that has helped me AND is affordable, is swimming. Yoga is good, but only some positions, and pilates is good, but a bit slow for me and boring.

I hated swimming, still kind of do, and had to take a few lessons to get me started having good stroke technique. I started with 6 laps of a 25m pool, and now can do up to 14 (I'm right in the middle of my long slow recovery).

It's the only thing that, when i wake up feeling sore and achey, helps me ease the pain and tension. It helps me with the resulting sciatica because whilst I'm in the water, I also am able to stretch my legs and groin without pain or pressure on my spine. Freestyle stroke helps with tension in my neck and shoulders, and strengthening my legs. Using the kickboard to kick up and down laps truly builds my core (I'm a professional dancer so I know about this!). Breaststroke puts the least pressure on my back. Backstroke helps a lot with my lats.

Best of all, it's cheap (my pool is $5 for a casual visit) and can be done anytime of the day (indoor pool). I go to a pool with lots of older people doing rehab, where my slow laps are barely noticed, in fact, I've made lots of new friends who are older people doing their own rehab, and they've taught me lots about how to use the pool to maximum benefit.

I'm a dancer, who was heavily into yoga and pilates before my back injury. Now, I'll push anyone with a back injury to swim instead of anything else, even though it still feels like I am about to drown everytime I go, i hate it that much.

posted by shazzam! at 3:55 AM on April 22, 2011

I had a herniated disc. I (so to speak) feel your pain.

I had one-on-one sessions with a yoga instructor, I saw my well-trusted chiropractor, I had extra massages. Nothing helped until I went to my doctor. He got me an MRI that confirmed a slipped and herniated disc. He prescribed me some anti-inflammatories and within a week I was pain-free.

That's what I did. After that I looked at ways to maintain my back health.
posted by booth at 5:06 AM on April 22, 2011

Yeah, I'd be really careful with a yoga regimen that isn't supervised by a PT. I'm in exactly the same boat you are, (L4-L5 herniation) except I'm at month 15 and it's still a frigging nightmare. The overlap between PT and yoga is actually huge--the stretching routine I'm doing daily on the advice of the PT is 80% poses that my wife recognizes and identifies from her yoga days. But I thought I could get cute and start inventing intermediate stretches of my own that seemed to be targeting the affected area more directly. That was going great, until I slightly overextended on the first rep one morning and felt the thing pop again, leaving me unable to walk for three days and undoing months of progress in one fell swoop. There are razor-thin margins between good-palliative-care exercises and wantonly-destructive exercises, and your average yoga instructor probably does not distinguish between them in the case of a specific injury.

I'm also in the same boat regarding insurance not wanting to pay for more PT. (Or, rather, I was in the same boat, until the re-injury a couple of months ago, which somehow re-qualified me for more visits. [Curse you, American insurance system.] I would not recommend following my strategy to get yourself authorized for more visits, however) If you call up your old PT, you'll probably find that recalcitrant insurers are not an uncommon phenomenon, and that if you buy blocks of appointments, it's shockingly inexpensive as compared to what they were billing your insurance company. Mine was billing something like $55/visit, but if you buy a dozen appointments yourself, it's $250. Not cheap, but totally viable if you're only going once a week for maintenance and checking in on your exercises.
posted by Mayor West at 5:58 AM on April 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

check you mefi mail.
posted by handbanana at 6:32 AM on April 22, 2011

i work for spine doctors (surgeons, osteopaths, physiatrists) who on occasion recommend yoga. if your doctor says it's fine, give it a shot. you could contact your physical therapist (without a visit) just to ask his or her opinion, and from the therapist and doctor both you can ask if they have any recommendations for particular practitioners; they do get feedback from patients on that, and they might well know of practitioners who have safely dealt with people with spine problems.
posted by fallacy of the beard at 8:18 AM on April 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

Got your letters guys, this is great advice, thanks.
posted by PostIronyIsNotaMyth at 12:31 PM on April 22, 2011

I study bodywork and sports medicine - I'm seconding the folks who say check with a PT first. Yoga is great if you have a healthy back, but when your disc has slid out, it's pretty iffy on which poses will strengthen the necessary muscles, and which ones will stress the (already loose now) ligaments to hold it in (or, worse yet, increase the degeneration of the disc).

This isn't to say that you couldn't find a yoga practitioner who would be skilled enough to really work with you, but I'd be looking to see if they ask for your MRI/x-rays without your prompting as the sign as to whether they're qualified to really help you safely.

If you only had muscle strain, yoga would be fine, but not with joint issues.
posted by yeloson at 1:16 PM on April 22, 2011

« Older Technology Focused Blog Directories   |   Moving to Seattle for residency, need apartment... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.