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Safe Yoga Practice with Spinal Stenosis

safe yoga with spinal stenosis and back pain using props

The use of props can make yoga safer for those with spinal stenosis.

Yoga can be a wonderful workout for mind and body but can you do yoga if you have spinal stenosis? Contorting yourself into painful poses is certainly not recommended, but many of the potential benefits of yoga are of particular interest for those looking for back pain relief and help with other possible effects of chronic spinal stenosis such as depression, loss of libido, and even constipation.

Choosing the Right Kind of Yoga for Spinal Stenosis

Not every kind of yoga is appropriate for those with chronic back pain – the trick is to find a teacher you trust and to work slowly and steadily to devise a program that is right for you. For some people it may be that the heat of Bikram yoga intensifies inflammation and makes back pain worse, especially if back pain is linked to Multiple Sclerosis. For others, Bikram may be just the thing to help relax muscles and ligaments and allow for increased range of motion and relief from pain and anxiety, while also burning off calories and perhaps losing some weight to relieve pressure on the joints.


Hatha yoga is a lot less vigorous than Bikram and may feel too slow for some. However, it may be perfect for those with chronic spinal stenosis and back pain who might enjoy a gentler pace incorporating more meditative practice. Isyengar yoga is also a good option for those with spinal stenosis and back pain as it focuses on alignment, strength, and conditioning, often making use of props such as yoga straps, chairs, and cushioned foam blocks that can decrease the risk of injury.

Whichever type of yoga you explore, be aware that not all teachers and practices are the same and so giving up after a single class could mean that you’re missing out on a wonderful opportunity to relieve your back pain naturally while also improving general health and wellbeing.

Take it Slow: Strength and Alignment is Key to Yoga with Spinal Stenosis

One key thing to watch out for with yoga practice is becoming too competitive, either with others in your class or simply with yourself. Those who know they like to push themselves harder, faster, farther should be aware that it is possible to do yourself some serious damage with yoga, whether acutely or over time. Even healthy individuals with no back issues can induce spinal fractures, disc herniation, or other problem with aggressive movements such as Uttanasana, forward bending, back bends, and headstands.


Yoga Poses to Avoid in Spinal Stenosis

Those doing yoga with lumbar spinal stenosis will almost always want to avoid pronounced backwards bending as this further narrows the spaces in the spinal column in this area and can cause nerve trauma and spinal cord impingement. Those with cervical spinal stenosis (in the neck) are advised against headstands or other movements straining this particularly portion of the spine, including head twisting in certain movements that require over-the-shoulder turning.

Twisting movements can, however, help improve blood flow to the spine, stretch out the hips and upper thigh muscles, and help in some cases of sciatic nerve pain when caused by cramping of the piriformis muscle. As such, yoga poses involving twists may be recommended in some cases but are only advisable for those with existing spine issues when cleared by their physical therapist and/or physician.

Headstands can be a great technique for strengthening the respiratory muscles and helping clear the mind and allow emotional decompression; vertebral compression may be the result of such poses, however, so always clear yoga practice with your physician first. Shoulder stands are also to be avoided by those with neck problems, spinal stenosis, and herniated discs.

Safe Yoga Tips for Spinal Stenosis

Practicing yoga safely with spinal stenosis is possible but does require some careful thought, consultation with your physician, and the involvement of a yoga teacher sensitive to your needs. Many yoga practitioners have considerable experience working with those with back pain and other chronic health conditions and a good teacher will be happy to address any concerns prior to classes commencing. It is always better to err on the side of caution when doing yoga with spinal stenosis so if you’re unsure about any movements or poses don’t be afraid to sit it out and rejoin the class when comfortable.

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