Yoga Inversions and Spinal Compression

spinal compressionBy Faye Martins

Spinal compression is a factor in skeletal health and Yoga. Although we praise Yoga postures (asanas) for their many healing benefits, new students should talk to their teachers before taking a class. Each person has a different body and some people have ailments that should be discussed with a certified Yoga instructor before taking part in a class. Each Yoga posture can heal, but each posture can also have the ability to cause pain. This may seem hard to believe if you are young, athletic, and flexible. However, most people aren’t young, athletic and flexible. Older people are living longer. Some adults never sit on the floor and many people of all ages don’t exercise at all.

 

Something to Consider

Spinal compression leading to fracture is the most common injury to the spine. It is often seen in elderly persons suffering from osteoporosis. Yet, it is also being seen in younger and healthier adults as well.

The spine consists of very hard vertebrae surrounding a cushioned inner disk. These vertebrae usually fracture from a serious fall or blow. The Beth Israel Medical Center (July 2010) reports that often the spine bends suddenly forward and then downward, as with a slamming fall from a chair or ladder. The compressing force of the fall is too much for the vertebra to withstand, and a compression fracture occurs.

 

Precautions 

The entire family of Yoga poses includes inversions. Inversion postures are described as headstands, shoulder stands, handstands and the plow posture. Inversion simply means that the body is inverted, or head down. Often the weight of the body is resting on the arms, head or neck. These exercises promote spinal flexion, which can produce undue pressure on thoracic vertebrae.

Awareness of the fitness and health benefits of Yoga is increasing within the population of Baby Boomers. Older persons want to take advantage of the benefits Yoga bestows for increased bone mineral density and flexibility. The problems begin when yoga postures, such as inversions, exceed the bounds of musculoskeletal mechanics.

 

An online article in the Pain Practice journal, authored by Mehrsheed SinSinaki, MD, of the Mayo Clinic, Rochester, MN (2012) states that although Yoga training can lead to greater bone health and fitness, it can also lead to painful compression fractures, especially in the older population.

In the article Sinaki discusses three women, aged 61, 70 and 87 who all suffered these fractures through the practice of yoga. The women were all diagnosed previously with osteopenia, a thinning of the bones due to aging and its corresponding bone mineral depletion. The women were not diagnosed in an advanced state of bone depletion, such as the condition of osteoporosis.

 

Yoga is well known for its physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health benefits, and many people wish to take advantage of it. This leads to a huge diversity of age and ability within beginning and intermediate levels of Yoga practice. It is essential that Yoga teachers, interns, and students be aware of and educated about safe guidelines regarding spinal compression. Each student is unique and proper techniques may have to be  modified for different practitioners.

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