Wellness and mindfulness are definitely buzzwords these days that tap into an eastern philosophy of establishing awareness on the present moment. After cycling through surgeries, medicines and traditional forms of Western therapies, I’ve begun exploring yoga, meditation and natural remedies and so far, these alternative approaches to healing have had a positive impact on how I manage chronic pain.
Acupuncture was my introduction to treating back pain outside of western medicine. I was battling through a goodly amount inflammation caused by two surgical incisions at L1/L2 and L5/S1 and found immediate, temporary relief from the stimulation of pressure points. After several treatments, pain that was radiating down my leg seemed to be temporarily blocked and I could move better without throbbing inflammation. It’s important to note that while I felt less pain, the underlying issue whether it was tangled nerve roots or scar tissue, was unaffected. And once the nerve-blocking effects wore off, the pain returned.
After some positive results from physiotherapy and a light stretching routine, I decided to try Yoga at a local centre. During registration, I was asked about previous injuries and I explained my situation – that I was recovering from spine surgery and had along history of back wonky-ness.. The instructor advised me to not do anything that might lead to re-injury and to take Child’s Pose until a new pose was introduced to the flow. After a few classes, I knew which postures released tensions and relieved pain and others that brought it on.
In a nutshell, I avoided all poses that increased flexion at the waist (any forward fold pose) as this increased the protrusion of herniated discs which then pushed on nerve roots and caused pain. Any posture with a twisting motion like a lunge twist or triangle pose also aggravated my spine and often displaced my disc so badly that I was bedridden for days. With some adjustments to a fairly standard Sun Salutations routine, I’ve been able to maintain a fairly regular practice which has helped loosen tight muscle groups and relieve overall tension in my back and lower body.
For those suffering through Sciatica, Yoga International demonstrates some postures that stretch or loosen tight muscles like the piriformis that may be aggravating the Sciatic nerve root. As YI explain: “the sciatic nerve is sandwiched between the piriformis and the small hard tendons that lie against the bone of the sacrum and pelvic bone. If the piriformis is tight (and it often is), it exerts pressure on the sciatic nerve and pushes it against the tendons beneath it, which can cause excruciating pain; this is known as the piriformis syndrome.”
In combination with other forms of rehabilitation such as Physical Therapy, I’m able to a get a certain level of relief that until now has only come through moderate doses of pain or nerve blocking medication. In fact, one recent study compared the relative effectiveness of Yoga vs Physical Therapy and results showed that both treatments relieved pain equally well.
Here’s a helpful guide to modify Yoga postures so that further damage can be avoided. As always, check with a medical professional before attempting any physical fitness routine especially after a spinal injury.
This short video touches on types of extension motions that have worked really well for my lumbar back pain. I’ve been told by multiple doctors to avoid flexion at the waist as much as possible (sitting, bending over at the waist etc…)