A herniated disc in the lumbar spine can take a long time to heal. Even when the often-accompanying sciatic pain has gone after a few months, the healing process can last about a year. During this time, it is crucial to aid the healing process by practising certain movements and avoiding others. This blog about yoga for a herniated disc discusses which movements are important to avoid. It also describes one relaxation position that may give you relief from pain. If you are interested in yoga for a herniated disc, this blog is for you.
What is a herniated disc?
Other names for a herniated disc are a slipped or bulging disc, or a herniated nucleus pulposis (HNP). They all refer to the bulging of one of the intervertebral discs, which act as shock absorbers between the spinal vertebrae. What really happens is that the nucleus inside an intervertebral disc is pushed forward or, more likely, backward by pressure from the neighbouring vertebrae. This causes it to bulge through the weakened or torn surrounding area. Usually this happens to the back and side of the spine, where the bulge can press against a spinal nerve root. The most common place for this to happen is in the lower back, where it may press against the sciatic nerve and result in ‘sciatica’. The shooting nerve pain down the leg is very intense and difficult to bear.
The causes of a HNP are not always known, although bad posture and heavy lifting can contribute. Younger people, between 25 and 45 are more likely to suffer from it. Medical specialists used to advise surgery in the past. Recently, however, research has suggested that non-surgical treatment is more effective in the long term. (Check out my blog about this here: https://beneyoga.co.uk/new-treatment-guidelines-low-back-pain/ )
Gradually, the body will absorb this bulge and the herniation will retract. What you do in this time of healing will determine whether this takes a long time and you suffer frequent relapses, or whether the pain eases relatively quickly. Important to know is that the pain may have gone away after 3 months, but you still have to be careful because the healing process is not finished.
With these recurrences you may feel confused about which movements are safe. If you have instinctively avoided many movements, you may feel that your body is tighter than it used to be. All this holding can lead to unnecessary tightness in the body, so it is good to know which movements can be harmful and which are safe. Yoga therapy for a herniated disc can teach you exercises that are beneficial while keeping the rest of the body moving and more flexible.
Movements to avoid
The movements that can interfere with the healing process are not random. Especially in the first 3 to 4 months it is important to avoid forward bends and forwards bends combined with a twist. Because we do these movements every day, I created the “Keep your Back Safe at Home Guide”, which you get for free when you subscribe to this blog.
In daily life, this means being extra careful with activities such as tying shoelaces, emptying the dishwasher, gardening and lifting. If you have to do any lifting, bend your legs and keep your back straight as you come up. Slouching or sitting for long periods are very unhelpful (hence the danger of long car journeys). Finally, one-sided sports such as tennis, golf, or impact sports like running or basketball are also not advisable just now.
In my yoga sessions with students recovering from a herniated disc, I avoid all yoga poses that involve any kind of forward bending. This even includes child’s pose at first. However, yoga has so many poses that can help you exactly at this stage. These are poses that relax the back and leg muscles, place the spine in a gentle back bend or safely strengthen the abdominals. If you would like to get your own specialised programme, please have a look at my back pain page and contact me here: https://beneyoga.co.uk/contact-for-yoga-classes-in-chiswick/ to set up a phone conversation.
Soothing rest position
What I would love to share with you today is a rest position that may feel soothing if you have a posterior bulging disc. Most herniated discs are posterior, bulging out at the side and back of the spine. This position gently stretches out the vertebrae and counters the pressure on the front of the discs.
Nevertheless, as always with yoga: should this pose not feel comfortable or cause pain, please don’t do it. Yoga teaches us primarily to listen to our body!
Lie face down on a firm but comfortable surface such as a carpet or yoga mat. Rest your forehead on your hands and adjust the height by either placing the forehead on the fingers or on both hands. Observe the natural rhythm of your breath.
Don’t stay too long in this position. However soothing this rest technique feels, movement is also important when you have back pain. So, to come out, carefully roll to the side and push yourself with your arm to come up to sitting. It is crucial to use the strength of your arms instead of the back muscles to come up.
Tell me how you are getting on – leave a comment below