Yoga and Neck Problems: What's the Risk to Students?

Yoga and Neck Problems: What’s the Risk?

Yoga and neck problemsBy Dr. Paul Jerard, E-RYT 500, YACEP

Is there a connection between healing methods in Yoga and neck problems?  Maybe you or a friend has chronic neck problems, and you have heard Yoga is a big help for pain, but you are still concerned. You have every right to be concerned, so let’s go through a safe, step-by-step procedure before, during, and after your first Yoga class.



Firstly, a Yoga student, who has such a severe ailment, should get their doctor’s, or chiropractor’s, permission before starting to practice Yoga with a teacher. If possible, get a doctor’s referral to a certified Yoga teacher who is more knowledgeable in this area. Many doctors often network with local Yoga teachers, studios, and ashrams, for the benefit of their patients.

Chair Yoga sessions or classes may be advisable in some instances. Yoga postures practiced during Chair Yoga classes will not put pressure on the neck. Contrary to popular belief, Chair Yoga is not for seniors only. It is also wise to find a Yoga teacher who has been thoroughly trained in the use of props, and modifications, and completely understands your ailment.

Choosing a Teacher

Find a certified Yoga teacher who is empathic, understanding, gentle, and knowledgeable. Then, set up an interview with your prospective teacher, and explain your ailment in detail. The methods, personalities, knowledge, and patience of teaching instructors will vary.

Subjects like therapeutic Yoga and neck problems are not typical knowledge for the average fitness-based instructor. The right teacher will likely have experience and a track record of working with Yoga and neck problems.




Some of the Yoga poses that I would not recommend would be Sirsasana (Headstand), Sarvangasana (Shoulder Stand), Halasana (Plow Posture), or any other posture that could cause severe compression on the cervical vertebrae (neck).

Also, your doctor should be aware of any risky movements and positions performed in a Yoga class, such as chin locks, neck rolls, and fingers clasped behind the neck. Neck rolls with the head tilted back and clasped fingers behind the neck are not advisable, even if you have a healthy neck.


Understanding Pain

You will find it is important not to do Yoga exercises or postures that hurt even a little. Pain is your body’s telling you “not to do that and stop now.” The exercises that will help you the most are those where you will feel a smooth and gentle stretch. If you don’t feel a soft stretch, I suspect those Yoga poses are not doing you much good.

If any exercises hurt at all, stop doing them immediately. I have yet to see a student, patient, or client benefit from any Yoga pose that caused pain. To continue further on this point: Any treatment, of any kind, (Chiropractic, massage, physical therapy, or Yoga), should be with the goal of less pain. Why do it, at all, if you will be in more pain?


Risks to Beginners

It’s worth mentioning, one more time, that everyone with pre-existing neck pain should consult a physician before practicing Yoga. Learning Yogic methods for a severe condition, such as a chronic neck ailment, should be practiced under maximum supervision with a competent Yoga teacher.

I would suggest at least one private lesson before trying a group class. A Yoga teacher may offer at least a few private sessions so the student understands all the safety guidelines. Lastly, it would be wise to use videos only if you are very familiar with the particular technique demonstrated in the video.

Understanding Techniques

As educational as videos are, they pale in comparison to the in-person or virtual guidance of a competent Yoga instructor.  Many of the videos available today are great learning tools for teachers and experienced students, but without advice, beginners are taking risks.

Healing methods in Yoga and neck problems have a successful connection, but it is worth a student’s time to consult, research, and learn the technique before practicing at home.

© Copyright – Aura Wellness Center – Publications Division


Related Resources

Binder AI. Cervical spondylosis and neck pain. BMJ 2007;334:527–31.

Cramer H, Klose P, Brinkhaus B, et al. Effects of yoga on chronic neck pain: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Clin Rehabil 2017;31:1457–65.

Cramer H, Lauche R, Langhorst J, et al. Is one yoga style better than another? A systematic review of associations of yoga style and conclusions in randomized yoga trials. Complement Ther Med 2016;25:178–87.

Cramer H, Lauche R, Haller H, et al. I’m more in balance: a qualitative study of yoga for patients with chronic neck pain. J Altern Complement Med 2013;19:536–42.

Cramer H, Lauche R, Hohmann C, et al. Yoga for chronic neck pain: a 12-month follow-up. Pain Med 2013;14:541–8.

Related Research

Dieleman JL, Baral R, Birger M, et al. US spending on personal health care and public health, 1996–2013. JAMA 2016;316:2627–46.

Feuerstein G. The Yoga Tradition. Prescott: Hohm Press; 1998.

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Monticone M, Iovine R, De SG, et al. The Italian Society of Physical and Rehabilitation Medicine (SIMFER) recommendations for neck pain. G Ital Med Lav Ergon 2013;35:36–50.

Related Studies

Myrtveit SM, Sivertsen B, Skogen JC, et al. Adolescent neck and shoulder pain—the association with depression, physical activity, screen-based activities, and use of health care services. J Adolesc Health NLM 2014;55:366–72.

Pacheco J, Raimundo J, Santos F, et al. Forward head posture is associated with pressure pain threshold and neck pain duration in university students with subclinical neck pain. Somatosens Mot Res 2018;35:1–6.

Rajalaxmi V, Jasim A, Sudhakar S, et al. To analyse the effectiveness of yoga, pilates and Tai Chi exercise for chronic mechanical neck pain—a randomized controlled trial. Biomedicine 2018;38:156–60.

Schmid AA, Miller KK, Van Puymbroeck M, et al. Yoga leads to multiple physical improvements after stroke, a pilot study. Complement Ther Med 2014;22:994–1000.

Uluğ N, Yilmaz ÖT, Kara M, et al. Effects of Pilates and yoga in patients with chronic neck pain: a sonographic study. J Rehabil Med 2018;50:80–5.

Wallwork SB, Butler DS, Wilson DJ, et al. Are people who do yoga any better at a motor imagery task than those who do not? Br J Sports Med 2015;49:123–7.

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