Everything that You Need to Know to Practice Yoga for a Herniated Disc

Can you practice yoga if you have a herniated disc? Discover some helpful yoga poses for treating disc herniation, along with a few safety tips.

A man and a woman doing Sphinx Pose for their beach yoga session to strengthen their core, relieve back pain, and improve mobility for treating disc herniation.

A healthy spine is solid yet flexible. In yoga, the position of the spine is of great importance. But what happens when you have a herniated disc? In this article, you will learn how yoga can help treat a herniated disc, the appropriate poses for this particular condition, and safety tips.

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What is a Herniated Disc?

A diagram showing spinal disc herniation happening in four stages: 1) bulging, 2) protrusion, 3) extrusion, 4) sequestration.
Photo by Laboratoires Servier

Source: Wikimedia Commons

The spine is composed of bones or vertebrae that are cushioned by discs. These discs work as shock absorbers of the spine. They work to protect each vertebra of the spine from rubbing roughly against each other while keeping the spine stable and allowing the spine to move while staying intact. 

The discs are capable of handling a lot of pressure. However, some stress may strain and irritate them. When this happens, the disc can slip out of its place. This condition is then called a herniated disc.

A herniated disc or a slipped disc can happen in any part of the spine. It causes pressure on the spinal nerves, which leads to weakness, numbness, or pain in the arms and legs. However, many people with herniated discs don’t have symptoms.

How Can Yoga Help a Herniated Disc?

The practice of yoga asanas can help people deal with a herniated disc in the following ways:

Increases Core Strength

The core muscles are what holds your trunk, where the spine resides, together. With a strong core, you can keep the spine from flexing and extending beyond its capacity. Core strengthening exercises in yoga may also help alleviate the pain caused by disc herniation and reduce anti-inflammatory drugs.

Improves Posture

A woman doing Lotus Pose to improve her posture for her herniated disc.

Yoga focuses on postures. There is an emphasis on having a tall and erect spine when practicing yoga postures. That is because you can move and breathe easy when your posture is proper. A bulging disc is caused and aggravated by repetitive load while in an improper posture. 

Yoga can help you increase your awareness of your posture. It is a low-impact physical exercise that can strengthen your muscles and improve your flexibility, which will help in holding a proper posture. 

Reduces Muscle Tension

Yoga can help in relaxing the body. For example, when you have a herniated disc, you may feel muscle spasms. Yoga is a natural way to relieve muscle spasms and pain. According to the study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, a weekly yoga class increased the mobility of 313 people suffering from chronic low back pain. Another study shows that yoga produces the same efficacy rate as standard therapy exercise for low back pain. Low back pain is a common pain of people with a herniated disc. 

Recommended Yoga Poses for a Herniated Disc

A male yoga practitioner doing Cat Pose for his indoor yoga session to alleviate back pain and improve mobility.

Yoga helps in relieving the pain caused by herniated discs while strengthening and improving your mobility. Here are some yoga asanas that can help you achieve the benefits of yoga for herniated disc.

Wind-Relieving Pose

Wind-Relieving Pose stretches the back and strengthens your core. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Lie down on your back.
  2. Take an inhale and as you exhale, hug both of your knees to your chest. Lift the shoulders and bring the nose or the forehead close to your knees.
  3. Repeat for five to 10 rounds. 

Modification: If you cannot hug both knees to your chest, do it with just one knee while extending or bending the other knee.

Supine Pigeon Pose

Pigeon Pose is an excellent yoga pose for increasing the flexibility of your hips and relieving hip and low back pain. For those who cannot do the whole posture, the supine pigeon pose is a modification that offers the same benefits. Here’s how to do this:

  1. Lie down on your back and bend your knees. Make sure your knees and feet are as wide as your hips.
  2. Bring the right ankle on top of the left thigh. You have the option to stay in this position or bring the left knee close to your chest.
  3. Stay in this pose for a few breaths. Repeat on the other side.

Reclined Hand to Big Toe Pose

Hand to Big Toe Pose in yoga is an excellent pose for opening the hips and hamstrings and strengthening the glutes. It also improves your balance. If the whole posture is too much for you, you can do the reclined version. Here’s how to do Reclined Hand to Big Toe Pose:

  1. Lie down on your back. Extend both of your legs.
  2. Bend the right knee to grab the right big toe with the fingers of your right hand and extend the leg up towards the ceiling. If this is not possible, use a towel or a belt to wrap around the foot and grab that. Another option is to bend the knee a little.
  3. Stay in this pose for five to ten rounds of breath. Repeat on the other leg.

Sphinx Pose

A black and white photo of a woman doing Sphinx Pose to strengthen her back for her herniated disc.
Photo by Christy Collins

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Sphinx is a beginner backbend that opens the chest and strengthens the back body by improving the extension of the spine. To do the Sphinx Pose:

  1. Lie down on your belly. 
  2. Bring the elbows under your shoulders. You have the option to keep your palms down or your fingers clasped together. Push the ground away with your forearms and keep the neck neutral. 
  3. Stay in this yoga asana for a few rounds of breath.

Cat-Cow

A male yoga practitioner doing Cat-Cow Pose for his outdoor yoga session to alleviate back pain due to a herniated disc.

The Cat-Cow is a flow of two yoga asanas that is excellent in improving the flexion and extension of the spine. Here’s how to do this pose:

  1. Come down on the mat on your hands and knees. Make sure to spread your fingers wide and keep the wrists directly under the shoulders. The hips should also be above the knees. Engage the core so that your back is in a neutral position.
  2. Inhale to bring your belly button down and lookup.
  3. Exhale to bring your chin to your chest while rounding the upper back and tucking your tailbone.
  4. Repeat for five or more rounds.

Tips to Practice Yoga Safely With a Herniated Disc

Practicing yoga is a great way to keep the spine mobile and strong, even with a herniated disc. It can also help in managing the pain you have. However, you have to practice yoga safely to avoid aggravating your condition. Here are the general guidelines when practicing yoga with herniated disc:

  • Stop doing a yoga pose immediately when you feel any tingling, numbness, or pain.
  • Don’t round your back.
  • Try seated forward fold yoga poses but avoid them if you cannot keep your back in a neutral position. 
  • Always bend your knees in standing forward folds.
  • Avoid practicing high impact styles of yoga such as HIIT Yoga, Power Yoga, or even Intermediate and Advanced Ashtanga.
  • If you have sciatica pain, avoid hamstring exercises or stretches.

Exercising such as practicing yoga asanas can help people with a herniated disc. But before starting any exercise regimen, consult your doctor first.

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