For people who have arthritis of the spine, yoga can be a highly beneficial practice. Not only can a regular yoga practice help improve circulation, reduce pain and promote relaxation, but it can also strengthen the muscles in the neck and back, providing better support for an arthritic spine. And, individuals who practice yoga may start to notice pain relief and mental benefits almost immediately, while also steadily improving flexibility over the course of a long-term practice.
Choosing your yoga poses
While there are several hundred specific yoga postures (sometimes referred to as asanas), each one with a unique benefit, it’s typically best to start with simple, gentle postures that don’t place an unnecessary amount of stress on the spine. Three such postures include:
- Downward dog. This is one of the most common asanas in any yoga practice. Not only does it help alleviate pressure in the lower back, but it also stretches the hamstrings and shoulders at the same time. For this posture, begin on your hands and knees, pressing both firmly into the ground. Straighten your arms while lifting your hips and buttocks into the air, making an inverted “v” with your body. Hold for several breaths, then release.
- Cat/cow stretches. This two-posture sequence improves spinal flexibility and abdominal strength, equally targeting the upper and lower back. Find a neutral position on your hands and knees, with your back flat and your core muscles engaged. While exhaling, round your shoulders and drop your head to the floor for cat pose. On your next inhale, lift your head up to the ceiling while arching your back in the opposite direction for cow pose. Flow through this sequence five to 10 times.
- Child’s pose. This resting posture helps elongate the spine and release tension from the shoulders. Start on your hands and knees, then gently press your hips back until you are seated. Stretch your arms as far in front of you as feels comfortable, then settle in for several seconds (or minutes) of relaxed breathing.
For individuals with arthritis of the spine (or any other neck or back condition), it’s usually a good idea to take several classes with an experienced instructor to get a feel for proper form. An instructor can also provide individualized guidance for particular poses to avoid if back pain makes exercise a challenge.
Yoga as part of a nonsurgical treatment plan
At USA Spine Care, our team frequently recommends yoga (along with other options) to individuals who are exploring nonsurgical treatments for arthritis of the spine. However, some people don’t end up obtaining adequate levels of relief from exercises, medications and other conservative treatments. When this occurs, we may recommend a minimally invasive procedure to address persistent symptoms of arthritis of the spine. To learn more about the procedures that we perform on an outpatient basis, contact USA Spine Care today.