If you have ever had a slipped disk, you probably know how it is to feel excruciating pain in the lower back and shooting pain down your leg. Sometimes combined with reduced sensation, tingling and weakness in the leg, this crippling pain may have put you out of action for at least a few weeks. In the best possible scenario, a slipped disk is diagnosed early and you are told which movements exacerbate the condition and which exercises may heal the spine. If, on the other hand, you keep doing the wrong things such as slouching and lifting, you may suffer long-term pain and eventually further deterioration of the spine. Physiotherapists, osteopaths or chiropractors offer different treatments, with varying results. This blog discusses the intervention by yoga therapy, which can teach you relaxation, the movements to avoid and, most importantly, the exercises suitable for each stage of the recovery.
What is a slipped disk and what about sciatica?
A slipped or herniated disk, and the often-resulting sciatica, is a very painful condition that is quite common in adults between 25 and 55 years old. The causes include genetic disposition, sedentary lifestyle combined with bad posture, stress, or too vigorous physical activities (especially when infrequent and combined with a sedentary lifestyle). Anatomically, a herniated disk is an intervertebral disk in which the outer ring of cartilage has ruptured, allowing the inner contents of thick gel to bulge out. This happens most frequently in the lower back or neck. This often presses on the root of a nearby nerve, causing pain that can feel like a sharp electric shock along the nerve route. The nerve pain is called sciatica and felt in the back of the leg when the disk herniates between the vertebrae towards the bottom of the spine.
A slipped (or herniated) disk needs 6 to 12 months to heal completely. During this time it is essential to avoid any activity that puts strain on the disk, such as lifting, slouching, long sitting and forward bending (subscribing to this blog will give you a guide with free advice about that). Avoiding certain positions and movements is hardest once the pain has left — usually after a few months – but it is very important to remain vigilant to prevent a relapse.
Yoga Therapy vs. Yoga
Few people know how effective tailored yoga therapy can be for a herniated/slipped disk. A carefully selected set of yoga poses can aid the recovery while going to a regular yoga class would make the condition worse. This isn’t to say that a general yoga class always exacerbates back pain, but in the case of a slipped disk it most certainly would, because too many yoga poses are counter-indicated. The right yoga, however, will speed up the healing process.
My teacher Dr. Robin Monro has worked tirelessly for years to research and document the effectiveness of yoga therapy for lower back pain and herniated disks in particular. I would never have had the confidence to work with my back pain students without his teaching and experience. Because the yoga therapy differs depending on your back condition and stage of recovery, and because it is so important to detect a slipped disk early, Robin Monro recently launched a computerised questionnaire called CALBA that can detect the likely presence of herniated disk and the course of action that can help you.
Dr. Robin Monro and CALBA
A herniated disk can be seen on an MRI scan, but most doctors do not prescribe one when you come into their surgery with newly developed back pain. They only carry out a full assessment with MRI if the condition persists in a severe form. The assessment that Dr. Monro created with CALBA can in most cases detect the likely presence of a herniated disk, even in the early stages or between episodes, when the symptoms are mild. Robin says: “Early detection and appropriate management of herniated disk can probably improve the prospects of recovery and avoidance of long-term chronic pain. The most common age range for herniated disk to first emerge is 25-55 years, so this it the ideal time to catch it. CALBA can help you determine whether your low back pain involves a herniated disk.”
Dr. Monro began his research into yoga therapy for lower back pain in the 1990s, after he met Dr. Dongaonkar, who was the head of orthopaedics Grant Medical School in Mumbai, India. By now he has over 15 years of experience using the Dongaonkar technique on a wide range of different causes for lower back pain. His wish to help people with lower back pain led him to create CALBA and train many yoga therapists.
CALBA consists of 6 short questionnaires that you take online at a small charge. After receiving the result you can also choose to start a monitoring system that helps you determine which activities make your condition worse and whether the treatment you are having is helpful.
To find out about the likely cause of your back pain, take the CALBA assessment on https://calba.net. To find a yoga therapist in your neighbourhood who has had specialist training in the treatment of low back pain and sciatica go to www.yogatherapy.org. In West London one of them would be me!
If you would like to get free tips about which movements to avoid with a herniated disk and back pain in general, do subscribe to this blog to get your free guide. The guide demonstrates the safest ways to lift, put shoes on, sit, work in the kitchen etc.