Yoga Inversions and Spinal Compression

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 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.


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. 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. Additionally, the compressing force of the fall is too much for the vertebra to withstand, and a compression fracture occurs.



The entire family of Yoga poses includes inversions. Inversion postures are headstands, shoulder stands, handstands, and the plow posture. Inversion means that the body is inverted or head down. Often the body’s weight rests 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 Yoga’s benefits for increased bone mineral density and flexibility. The problems begin when yoga postures, such as inversions, exceed the bounds of musculoskeletal mechanics.


Pain Practice Journal

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 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 with advanced bone depletion, such as osteoporosis.


Holistic Health Benefits

Yoga is well known for its physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health benefits, and many wish to take advantage of it. This leads to a huge diversity of age and ability within the 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. Remember that the spine naturally compresses over time, and many inversions don’t squeeze your head between the body and the floor.

What are the Risks?

One of the risks associated with performing inversions like headstands is the potential for developing spinal compression. Over time, this can lead to serious problems and even disability. Your body weight and gravity put pressure on the discs in your spine when you are inverted. This can cause them to flatten out or collapse, putting pressure on the nerves traveling through them. In some cases, this can lead to pain, numbness, tingling, or weakness in the arms or legs.



Over time, repeated spinal compression can cause the discs to degenerate and wear out prematurely. This can lead to arthritis and other chronic problems. In severe cases, it can even lead to paralysis. That’s why it’s so important to be careful when performing inversions like headstands. Make sure you warm up thoroughly beforehand and use props to support your body if necessary. Stop immediately and consult a doctor if you experience any pain or discomfort.

Spinal Health Benefits of Inversion

There are many benefits of spinal decompression from yoga inversions like Handstands. These benefits are included in the list below.

1. Relief from back pain: Spinal decompression can relieve back pain by taking pressure off the vertebrae and spinal discs.

2. Better circulation: Inversions can help improve circulation by promoting the movement of blood and lymph fluids.

3. Increased flexibility: Spinal decompression can increase flexibility by lengthening the surrounding spine and muscles.

4. strengthened core muscles: Inversions can help strengthen the core muscles, which support the spine and help keep it stable.


Making Inversions Safer

There are many benefits to practicing yoga inversions, including reducing spinal compression. Spinal compression can lead to pain and stiffness in the lower back and neck and cause digestion, circulation, and nerve function problems. Inversions can help to stretch and lengthen the spine, relieving pressure and pain. Some props can help with inversions, including a stability ball, yoga strap or belt, a yoga block, or blankets. Yoga poses, such as Downward Facing Dog, Puppy Pose, Legs-up-the-Wall Pose, or a Supported Child’s Pose, are mild inversions.

User-Friendly Styles

There are many different types of yoga, each with its benefits. One of the best yoga styles for spinal decompression is Hatha yoga. This type of yoga focuses on gentle, slow movements and deep breathing. This can help to release tension from the spine and improve circulation throughout the body. Restorative, Yin, and Therapeutic yoga teachers take the time to help students achieve the correct alignment in each pose. This can help stretch and lengthen the spine, reducing pain and improving mobility.


What Should Yoga Teachers Know?

One of the most important things for yoga teachers to know is how to properly align the spine during inversions. Many students come to yoga with spinal issues, so it’s important that teachers are aware of how to properly adjust and support the spine during inversions. Spinal compression can occur during inversions if the spine is not properly aligned. This can lead to pain and discomfort for the student, so it’s important that teachers are aware of how to avoid this. There are a few things that yoga teachers can do to help prevent spinal compression during inversions.

Teacher Tips

1. Make sure that students are properly aligned before starting the inversion.

2. Use props such as blocks or straps to support the spine during the inversion.

3. Modify the inversion if necessary to ensure that the spine is safe and supported.

4. Encourage students to focus on their breath and relax their body during the inversion.

By following these simple tips, yoga teachers can help prevent spinal compression during inversions and keep their students safe and comfortable.


Referrals to Medical Professionals

As a yoga teacher, you may occasionally have students who come to you with injuries or pain that require medical attention. If this happens, it’s important to be able to recommend the right specialists to your students so they can get the care they need. There are a few different types of specialists you may need to recommend, depending on the student’s specific problem. For example, if a student has a back injury, you may need to recommend a spine specialist or orthopedic surgeon.

Chronic Pain

If a student has a chronic condition like arthritis, you may need to recommend a rheumatologist. It’s important to remember that you’re not a medical doctor, so you shouldn’t try to diagnose or treat injuries yourself. Therefore if you have students who are injured or in pain, recommending the right specialists can help them get the care they need and get pain relief as soon as possible.

© Copyright – Aura Wellness Center – Publications Division

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