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Yoga Poses for Spondylitis

Posted on March 03, 2021
Medically reviewed by
Diane M. Horowitz, M.D.
Article written by
Max Mugambi

Some people living with spondylitis have turned to yoga to help manage their symptoms. Spondylitis refers to a family of inflammatory diseases that primarily affect the spine, neck, and hips. Spondylitis can cause chronic inflammatory pain and stiffness in various parts of the body, including the joints (neck, spine, and hip), chest, buttocks, and shoulders. Muscle stiffness and weakness are also common, whereas other symptoms include fatigue, sleeping problems, and depression.

Several members of MySpondylitisTeam have found that regular yoga practice helps improve both physical symptoms, such as pain and stiffness, and psychological challenges, such as stress and anxiety. As one member wrote, “I find yoga helpful because it’s gentle stretching and strengthening. My hips, hamstrings, and glutes all get very tight, and it’s a good release. I also find it to be a good, mentally calming time, like a moving meditation.”

Yoga is a practice of poses, meditations, and breathing techniques. Research has shown that yoga may improve neck pain and range of motion and can help manage low back pain, with the same physical benefits as other types of exercise. The Spondylitis Association of America recommends that people with spondylitis do range-of-motion exercises, like yoga and stretching, every day to maintain mobility and reduce pain.

Best Yoga Poses for Spondylitis

Yoga may help people with spondylitis pain because it allows them to exercise gently while reducing muscle tension and improving joint range of motion. As one MySpondylitisTeam member shared, “I’ve been doing some gentle yoga every day to get my body moving." Yoga may help improve your posture and reduce stress, and it helps make you more mindful of how you sit, stand, and move. Be careful not to push yourself into a pose that is uncomfortable, as people with spondylitis have less spine flexibility than the general public.

Here are a few poses sometimes recommended for people with spondylitis, along with the potential benefits they may provide.

Spine Flexibility

Cow pose and cat pose may help with spine flexibility.

To perform cow pose, get down on all fours with your wrists directly below the shoulders and fingers apart. Keep your hips straight and knees aligned directly below them. Face the floor with your head in a neutral position. This position is called a neutral tabletop position.

Inhale as you lift your sitting bones and chest toward the ceiling so that your belly sinks toward the floor. Your head should lift with the movement as your gaze moves from the floor to looking straight forward.

Exhale as you come to the neutral starting position, and follow up with cat pose. Repeat 10 to 20 times, as is comfortable.

For cat pose, begin in your neutral position. As you exhale, curve your spine inward and round toward the ceiling. Relax your head toward the floor without forcing your chin to your chest. Next, inhale as you return to the neutral tabletop position.

Stretching the Spine and Hip Flexors

Child’s pose can help you stretch out your spine and hip flexors.

To perform child’s pose, begin by kneeling on the floor, letting your toes touch and your knees spread about hip-width apart. Sit your hips back on your heels as your torso leans forward to rest between your thighs. Keep the center of your forehead to the floor or on a block and relax. Stretch out your arms in front of you with the palms downward, or bring them to rest along your sides with the palms upward.

Maintain child’s pose for however long is comfortable.

Full-Body Stretching

Downward-facing dog is a great pose for a full-body stretch.

Start by lowering onto all fours with your knees directly below your hips, and your arms slightly in front of your shoulders. With your fingers spread on the mat and your toes turned under, exhale as you push your knees up from the floor. Bring your sitting bones toward the ceiling and push the top of your thighs back as you try to stretch your heels toward the floor.

Stay in downward-facing dog for one to three minutes, or as long as you are comfortable and can continue to feel the stretch.

Hip Flexor Flexibility

Crescent pose can help improve the flexibility in your hip flexors.

To perform crescent pose, start in the downward-facing dog position. Step your right foot forward with your knee directly above your heel and your left foot firmly on the ground in a lunge position. Raise your torso to an upright position as you raise your arms overhead with the palms facing together. Look up toward your thumbs and maintain this position for 30 seconds to one minute.

Bring your arms back to the floor and step the right foot back, resuming the downward-facing dog position. Hold for a few breaths and repeat with your left foot forward.

How To Access Yoga Exercises

A convenient way to start yoga classes is through online videos and resources. Reputable resources can be found at the Spondylitis Association of America website. Here, you can find online videos, guides, and physical DVDs to help you get started with yoga. Other sources of information about yoga include Yoga Journal and Yoga Alliance.

Precautions To Take When Doing Yoga for Spondylitis

Talk to your doctor before beginning any new exercise routines, including yoga. Although stretching and exercise can be very beneficial, some exercise may worsen certain types of joint pain or stiffness.

Ultimately, what works for another person might not always work for you. Yoga stretches are generally gentle, but some forms of yoga are more physically demanding and may exacerbate — rather than improve — symptoms.

Before starting with yoga, keep the following points in mind:

  • Always consult your doctor about including an exercise in your treatment plan.
  • If a certain exercise or yoga pose is too painful, don’t push yourself — stop immediately. Consult a professional, such as your physical therapist, about adjustments or alternative solutions for pain management.
  • Check the qualifications of the yoga instructor. Do they have experience working with people with health concerns (especially joint pain)? What can you expect from their class?

As one member shared, yoga, done safely, can be a great relief: “I learned very early on not to do anything that would hurt. Yoga is stretching, and if done under supervision, it should be very beneficial to you. So don’t give up!”

Find Your Support

MySpondylitisTeam is the social network for people with spondylitis to connect and share. When you join MySpondylitisTeam, you become part of a network of more than 60,000 members who understand you. Yoga for spondylitis is a hot topic on MySpondylitisTeam. Many members have tried yoga as a way to manage pain and stiffness and discuss their experiences.

Have you tried yoga therapy for spondylitis? Are you planning to give it a try? Let us know in the comments below, or start a discussion on MySpondylitisTeam.

Diane M. Horowitz, M.D. is an internal medicine and rheumatology specialist. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Learn more about her here.
Max Mugambi is a copywriter at MyHealthTeams with more than five years of experience writing about a diverse range of subjects. Learn more about him here.

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