If you’ve been diagnosed with spondylolisthesis, you may feel at a loss of how to manage your back pain. If you were doing yoga, a back specialist probably told you that yoga is not a good idea. After all, many yoga practices would aggravate spondylolisthesis. While this may be true of a general yoga class, yoga therapy could be just right for you. The right exercises, relaxation and breathing would help you manage and relieve even such a complicated back condition as spondylolisthesis. Choosing yoga therapy for spondylolisthesis means that you can profit from all the physical, emotional and mental benefits of yoga. On top of that, you learn which movements and positions can help your back, and which should be avoided. Everyone is different, and it’s best to get a yoga therapy programme for your particular health condition. However, this blog aims to give you a head start with some general indications.
In my previous blog: https://beneyoga.co.uk/yoga-therapy-spondylolisthesis-foraminal-stenosis/ I wrote about my student who had spondylolisthesis. She is not the only one, as I am teaching more people with this back condition and regularly get questions about it via my website. As exemplified by my student’s experience, it is possible to lead an active life and practise yoga. T.K.V. Desikachar writes in “The Heart of Yoga” that as long as you can breathe, you can do yoga. Luckily, with spondylolisthesis you can do more than just the yoga breathing.
What is spondylolisthesis
Most commonly a condition of the lower spine, spondylolisthesis is form a spinal instability and degeneration. It happens when a fracture in the spine caused one vertebra to slide forward, or more rarely backward (then called retrolisthesis). It can occur in young people as well as older ones. Spondylolisthesis can be more or less severe, depending on the degree of slippage, and hence does not always cause symptoms.
One obvious symptom can be lower back pain, felt during and after activity, improved when lying down. Because of the possible pressure on a nearby nerve, there may also be numbness or tingling radiating down one or both legs.
Spondylolisthesis can be genetic or caused by a trauma or repetitive strain, for example experienced by gymnasts or weight-lifters. Very likely, it can also be caused by forced and un-careful yoga practices. Alternatively, it can be the result of arthritis, or a tumour.
Spondylolisthesis can be preceded by spondylolysis, when a small spinal bone (pars interarticularis, connecting the facet joints) breaks and makes the spine unstable.
Yoga therapy for spondylolisthesis
A yoga therapist specialised in back pain will be able to tell you how to adapt your yoga practice. If you are new to yoga, this is a very good time to start an adapted practice. Because the disc slips forward in spondylolisthesis, any form of back bending is likely to push the disc further forward. This is one of the reasons why the back specialist told you to avoid doing yoga. However, you can fully enjoy yoga without back bending. Twisting may be problematic too. The yoga therapist can tell you which yoga practices involve these movements. Taking this knowledge into your daily life can then save you a lot of back pain.
After a few one-to-one yoga therapy sessions, your knowledge can empower you to help yourself. Taking a gentle yoga class or even a back care yoga class won’t give you the same. Even a gentle back care class will include movements that people with spondylolisthesis have to avoid.
Often, spondylolisthesis coincides with other sources of back pain, such as sacroiliac joint pain. Your yoga therapist willl know how to combine your programme to also benefit the other condition. Contact me here if you would like to receive your own unique back care yoga therapy programme, either in person or online: https://beneyoga.co.uk/contact-for-yoga-classes-in-chiswick/
Meanwhile, the following are important aspects of yoga therapy for spondylolisthesis:
Avoiding the movements that can aggravate the pain
It may seem common sense that an essential part of pain reduction is avoiding activities that can aggravate the pain, such as lifting and weight-bearing. However, in the whirlwind of daily life, it is not always clear which the offending actions are and how to substitute these with better movements.
By the way, if you would like to find out how to make daily movements safer for your back, do subscribe to this blog and you receive the “Keep your Back Safe at Home” for free!
Including movements that soothe and release tight muscles
-Poses that mobilise and relax the body but are neutral for the spine, such as arm and shoulder exercises, neck stretches, etc.
-Stretches for the hamstrings and other tight muscles at the back of the legs.
-Poses that gently round the back, such as child’s pose.
-Hip circles lying down, to lubricate the hip joints.
-Releasing the gluts:
-Relaxation and moving with the breath, for a sense of wellbeing and calm.
-pranayama, the Sanskrit name for breathing practices.
Including movements that strengthen muscles
-Exercises that strengthen the core. To find out about core strengthening that is safe for back pain, do visit my video sessions here.
In yoga therapy, and yoga in general, practitioners have to listen to their own body. This is important for an area in which specialists sometimes give contradictory advice. While doing your yoga therapy practices at home, it will become clear which movements are beneficial. You can then apply this increased awareness to yoga as well as physiotherapy or pilates.
Yoga therapy provides:
-A clear indication of which movements to avoid in yoga, physiotherapy, pilates and daily life. Significantly, this is making the lower back pain or sciatic pain more predictable.
-Knowledge of which movements are beneficial in your daily practice, so you know how to best support your back.
-A way to relax when your back and legs feel sore, using the breath and relaxation practices.
Back pain can be complicated. It is possible that you have a combination of spondylolisthesis and, for example, sacroiliac joint misalignment. Before embarking on your yoga therapy practices, it is best to consult a specialised yoga therapist. Contact me here if you would like to receive your own unique back care yoga therapy programme, either in person or online: https://beneyoga.co.uk/contact-for-yoga-classes-in-chiswick/