By Dr. Paul Jerard, E-RYT 500
Spinal stenosis is a narrowing of the spinal column that puts pressure on the spinal cord, or narrowing of the openings where spinal nerves leave the spinal column. The condition typically occurs with age, as a person’s spinal discs become drier and begin to shrink. Symptoms include numbness, cramping, or pain in the back, thighs, buttocks or calves, neck, shoulders, or arms.
Unfortunately, arm or leg weakness, and difficulty walking, are common with spinal stenosis. If left untreated, the condition can result in bone spurs and severe debilitation, including complete loss of mobility.
The best possible action for spinal stenosis is, of course, prevention: regular Yoga practice insures continued flexibility and strengthens core muscles, which help reduce pressure on the spine. However, if the condition has already occurred, there are several poses, which are very effective for addressing spinal stenosis.
Hatha Yoga postures (asanas) that lengthen the spine and relieve pressure on the nerves are recommended for pain relief. On the other hand, those asanas that compact the nerves, like backbends, are contraindicated. Some excellent Yoga poses for sufferers of back pain include:
• Mountain pose or Tadasana
• Staff pose or Dandasana
• Downward Dog or Adho Mukha Svanasana
• Happy Baby pose or Ananda Balasana
• Bound Angle pose or Baddha Konasana
• Half Spinal Twist or Ardha Matsyendrasana
Additionally, any Yoga posture that is a form of an active back extension should reduce or eliminate pain. One example is: the Forward Bend (Uttanasana), which can be modified by a competent Yoga teacher.
Warming up the muscles properly is important for people with spinal stenosis. It must be remembered that rushing into exercise can aggravate the condition. Poses should be held for 60-90 seconds, and then the body should gently relax. Spending time in Shavasana, at the conclusion of each practice, is very important, to relax the muscles and allow the spinal column to settle into its increased length. For those following an Ayurvedic diet, pitta-stimulating foods should be avoided, with a condition such as spinal stenosis. These include spicy, pungent, sour, salty, hot, light, or oily foods, and some fruits and vegetables.
Yoga, as an intervention for spinal stenosis, is so effective that in February 2011, Dr. Anand Gandhi, a physician at the Laser Spine Institute in Scottsdale, AZ, published an article on “Yoga and the Aging Spine,” detailing the benefits of Yoga therapy for an aging spine as it “promotes a full range of motion, restores flexibility, and improves circulation.”
Given that surgery for spinal deterioration is the most common treatment for advanced cases, advocacy from a physician in a surgery clinic is praise, indeed. It must be understood that there are times when surgery is the only option. Yet, even in these cases, Yoga can be a good adjunct therapy, before or after, surgery.
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