However, most of the research done into this has not looked into yoga’s potential usefulness or harmfulness for those with different causes of back pain. People with spinal problems such as herniated or bulging discs, for example, may reasonably be concerned that the movements demanded by yoga can cause increased pain and even injury.
Fortunately, a small study was recently conducted to test such fears. Though not conclusive evidence in itself, it serves to suggest that, pursued carefully, yoga may be safe for people with disc problems.
Researchers analyzed outcome measures for 61 patients with back pain over a three-month period. All participants had at least one disc bulge or herniation (a.k.a. extrusion). Thirty participants were randomized into a yoga course group, while the remaining 31 served as a control group, receiving standard medical care for back pain. The yoga course was specifically designed for people with discogenic pain.
While most outcome measures were comparable between groups at the end of the study period, two noteworthy findings resulted: First, those in the back pain yoga group exhibited a disability score that was 3.29 points lower on average (on a 24-point scale) than those in the control group, and second, that no adverse effects were reported from yoga participants.
See more on the study at www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov.
Yoga is performed by assuming postures called poses; it also generally involves breath control and, sometimes, a meditation component. It’s important to only pursue postures that have been assigned or modified with disc bulges or herniations in mind. Many people with disc herniations experience increased pain when bending forward (flexion), as this movement pushes disc fluids toward the posterior of the spine where the nerves exit. Depending on the location of your bulge or herniation, then, you may need to avoid forward-bending poses. Twisting movements may also be out of the picture.
But the above study suggests that there are still plenty of poses people with disc problems can pursue, meaning that yoga is not necessarily off the table. The important thing is to work with an instructor or physical therapist who understands spinal mechanics, your unique disc situation and poses that are safe for you to do.
Yoga can be an effective component of back pain treatment by improving strength, flexibility and mental well-being. If you have a disc bulge or herniation, talk with your doctor or physical therapist about the potential benefits of yoga for your situation.