Degenerative Disc Disease: What it is, Who it affects, and How to treat it via yoga
Through regular stretching and lengthening of the spine, it is possible to alleviate the effects of stress and gravity on spinal discs.
How To Treat Degenerative Disc Disease With Yoga
What is Degenerative Disc Disease?
As we age, our bodies break down over time, leading to aches and pains that can be chronic if left untreated. Years of wear-and-tear on your joints and spine can take its toll — through physical stress, injury, and illness.
Degenerative disc disease is a condition caused by years of impact and gravity. Affecting the spinal discs in between your vertebrae, these soft cartilage shock absorbers deteriorate over time, causing pain, weakness, and numbness. It’s a form of arthritis in your spine, and it commonly affects most people as they age.
In fact, according to a 2006 study on discs, around 40% of adults over 40 years old have developed one or more degenerative discs, and by the age of 80, around 80% of adults experience multilevel degenerative disc disease. It often manifests as low back pain, and neck and arm pain; however, some people don’t feel any symptoms at all.
What is the Best Treatment for Degenerative Disc Disease?
Even though this condition is widely prevalent, there is good news. You can help prevent degenerative disc disease and treat it through regular practice of yoga. A 2011 study published in the European Spine Journal found that yoga reduced chronic back and neck pain in adults, and in senior men and women suffering from disc degeneration.
Researchers noted that impactful degenerative disc treatment required long-term practice of yoga. Through regular stretching and lengthening of the spine, it is possible to alleviate the effects of stress and gravity on spinal discs. By continually practicing yoga throughout your life, you can actually prevent degenerative disc disease from happening and maintain a healthy spine.
Yoga For Degenerative Disc Disease
In my classes at MyYogaTeacher, I offer students with back problems some basic Hatha yoga poses to help alleviate symptoms from degenerative disc disease. These simple exercises will keep the back flexible and strong, preventing discs from degenerating, and giving some relief if they are suffering from this condition.
I also make sure to avoid any deep back bends. While yoga can be incredibly beneficial for treating degenerative disc disease symptoms, we don’t want to make them worse. Things to avoid with degenerative disc disease are strenuous back bends like Wheel or Camel Pose. They may cause injury if you’re experiencing back problems. Be sure to stick with gentle, Hatha yoga for best results without risk of injury.
Yoga Poses for Degenerative Disc Disease
1. Downward Facing Dog
This elemental yoga pose can give you enormous relief from back and neck pain, along with stretching your hamstrings, thighs, and strengthening your core muscles.
Start with your hands and knees on the floor, and push your hips upward until you are balancing on your hands and feet. Keep your head between your arms, and reach down with your heels. Remain in this pose for several breaths.
2. Thread the Needle
This pose offers a gentle twist that does wonders for your shoulders, neck, and lower back.
Again, start with your hands and knees on the floor. Reach your left arm up, and then down and across in front of you, “threading” it past your right arm until your left arm and the left side of your face are resting on the floor. Stay in this position and relax for a few breaths. Repeat on the other side.
Cat-Cow pose is a great way to strengthen and stretch your back and neck muscles. Plus, this pose directly alleviates pressure in the spine.
From your hands and knees, gently arch your back and lift your face to look up as you inhale. Then, as you exhale, curl your spine and turn your face down to look toward your naval. Repeat this movement at least 10 times in a fluid motion.
4. Child’s Pose
This resting yoga pose gently stretches your lower back, relaxes your neck, and calms the mind. Start on your hands and knees and then lower yourself down so that your backside is resting on your heels, and your big toes are touching each other. Move your hands forward, palms down, so that your forehead is resting on the floor. Allow your spine to lengthen and your neck muscles to fully relax. Breathe deeply and mindfully while staying in this pose for 5-6 minutes.
Yoga for a Healthy Spine
By practicing these simple, Hatha yoga poses regularly throughout your life, you can keep your spine healthy and prevent discs from degenerating. And if you’re in your senior years and you are a beginner, long-term practice of these yoga poses are still a wonderful way to stay active and reduce chronic pain caused by degenerative disc disease.
Zaeem Zaidi is a Senior Research Fellow and PhD candidate in Yoga at SVYASA Yoga University. He teaches Hatha yoga, Power yoga, kriyas, and meditation at MyYogaTeacher. Zaeem has over 14 years experience in the fitness industry, and 8 years experience teaching yoga. He is using his research to help students improve cardiovascular endurance, joint health, and cellular health through the practice of yoga.