Yoga for Herniated Disc: 9 Poses
Let me share with you a few poses in yoga for a herniated disc and other low back worries. This is NOT a treatment plan. I'm just sharing what has helped me with my own ruptured disc issues. Talk with your doctor before starting any exercise program for back pain.
I tore a disc in my low back several years ago and spent a year recovering. Ironically, a few weeks ago, I hurt the same dang spot. I'm so skilled that I injured myself while getting out of bed. What. The. Hell! Well, I learned a lot of lessons last time, so let me tell you a few of my favorite yoga postures that have helped me get back on my feet.
A Ruptured or Herniated Disc
If you have never experienced a herniated disc, let me share a few details with you. There are discs that are like pillows or cushions that rest between the bones of your spine (vertebra). Sometimes, if you are unlucky, you can get hurt and rip this cushion open. This means the bones of your spine can come closer together and pinch nerves.
In my case, this means that bending forward causes severe pain, the low spine and sacrum are constantly aching, and a pinched nerve causes something called sciatica, which for me is shooting pain down the left hip all the way to the knee.
It took me a year to heal last time, which involved physical therapy, steroids, an injection in the back to help relax the muscles, modifying my work so I was never sitting during meetings (THANK YOU, Boss!), and lots of time. It sucked, but I eventually got back to normal.
Yes, a Herniated Disc Can Be Injurred More Than Once
This month, I lived with the pain for a week and ended up in urgent care when every movement hurt. They injected a muscle relaxer into my butt (nice), put me on a course of steroids, and sent me home with muscle relaxers. I didn't bother with PT because I already knew the deal. Bonus, I'm not a yoga teacher and know the movement of my body pretty well. As soon as the steroids made it possible for me to move again, I started doing short sessions of yoga 2-3 times a day. It has been about three weeks and I'm noticing huge changes and feeling much better.
Here are my favorite yoga postures for herniated disc and general low back pain:
Tips: Keep hips directly above the knees, even when transitioning between cat and cow. In cat, only move so far that you feel a nice stretch in the low spine. For me this month, I really feel this in the muscles around the sacrum and in my butt (sciatica). When coming into cow, don't drop your ribcage down. Be sure you feel supported and remember to breathe deeply to protect the pelvic floor. I hold each pose for about four breaths before moving.
Tips: Again, keep the hips directly above the knees and ALWAYS keep the hips facing the floor (don't rotate when you lift a limb or you wont be doing your pelvic floor any favors). I'm in a lot of pain, so for me I just lift one limb at a time and breathe deeply, but it may be possible to lift one leg and the opposite arm.
Tips: Be sure to space the feet close enough to the butt to help with engaging the pelvic floor but far enough that you don't have knee pain. Chest comes to the chin, chin faces the sky, and only come up as far as you need to in order to feel a gentle stretch in the low back. I keep a block between my thighs and gently squeeze my butt. The first two weeks after injury I could NOT lift off the ground. Be gentle with yourself and don't try this unless you're ready for it.
Tips: I always place a blanket under the forward hip so that my pelvis is aligned. Unlike the image, I bring my forearms to the ground and rest my head on my arms. This is THE BEST options I've found to relieve my sciatica this month, but it can be tough on the knees and isn't for everyone. If you do this, be sure that the hips are level and pointing downward so you protect the pelvic floor.
Tips: Love this one for low back pain. Keep the arms close to the body and only press up with the chest until you feel a gentle stretch in the low back. For the first two weeks my chest and face were pretty much directed at the floor, but it felt great so I stuck with it.
Tips: This is a family favorite for low back pain. If you try it, I suggest keeping the hips above the knees and be sure not to drop the ribs toward the floor. The back should be relatively straight, the neck relaxed, and you can rotate at the hips to change how deep your stretch is in the low back. This is also a stretch I do when I have a cough and am feeling a lot of pressure from prolapse.
Tips: To protect the pelvic floor AND to help prevent worsening low back pain, I do not recommend rounding the back in this pose. I keep active arms and a straight spine, sometimes using a bolster, blanket, or pillows under the arms and butt. Pulling the tailbone back toward the head helps keep the lumbar spine in neutral while also increasing the stretch. The trick for me seems to be keeping a straight spine.
Supine Figure 4
Tips: This pose helps me a lot with sciatica. Be gentle with your bent knee if you try it. Pressing the knee gently toward the floor can deepen the stretch, and I always suggest keeping the sacrum flat on the floor in order to maintain a neutral pelvis (and a happier pelvic floor!).
Savasana with Legs on a Chair
Tips: Traditional Savasana this month is a big fat no for me. Straight legs create too much strain on the low spine. To help with this, I like using a kitchen chair. With hips and knees at 90 degrees (which sometimes requires a pillow on the chair since my spider legs are long) I find this relieves the added tension on the low spine while also keeping the pelvic floor relaxed in a neutral position.
BONUS! All of the postures for back pain mentioned above are also great exercises for the pelvic floor.
There are other postures that I cycle into the routine depending on how I'm feeling, like the reclined cobbler's pose that I do every night, even without an injury! If you do a back-bench of some type (e.g. Sphinx Pose) be sure to complement it with a forward fold (e.g. Child's Pose) to keep your muscles evenly worked and safe.
Are you interested in doing yoga at home that is focused on the pelvic floor, hips, and low back? Check out the website https://www.yogabelowthebelt.com