Yoga, chiropractic and my neck

Yoga is the most impactful import from India to the US. Yoga has many documented health benefits, including relief of headaches. I have been practicing Bikram yoga about twice a week for nearly 12 years. About a year ago I started having some neck and left upper back pain. I thought that strengthening neck exercises, meditation, occasional massage, which is what I recommend my patients, would eliminate the pain (I probably should have also gone for physical therapy). The pain was never severe and would temporarily improve with massage, but because it persisted and became annoying, I decided to try chiropractic.

Many doctors’ attitude towards chiropractors is dismissive, disdainful or worse. When I tried to google the number of chiropractic manipulations done in the US, the first item that popped up was Medscape’s Deaths After Chiropractic: A Review of Published Cases (there were 26 cases in that report). I have personally treated an elderly patient who developed a subdural hematoma (bleeding inside the head) after chiropractic manipulation. My usual advice to patients has been to go for physical therapy and massage instead of chiropractic. If a patient really wants to see a chiropractor, I advise asking not have any high velocity adjustments. This adjustment is done by suddenly turning and lifting your head to one side and it is responsible for most of the complications. I also tell patients that a good chiropractor will always give you exercises to do, while those who don’t, just want you to keep coming for adjustments for years. Many people feel immediate relief from chiropractic, but it lasts only a few days and they have to go back for another treatment. In fact, regular stretching done by a chiropractor can loosen the ligaments around the cervical spine and cause habitual subluxation of the joints. Subluxation is a partial joint misalignment, which a chiropractor can fix, but repeated adjustments stretches the ligaments and make it easier for the joint to misalign again.

So, why did I take a chance with my neck if not life? First, I wanted to experience what a chiropractic manipulation is like (I’ve also tried Botox, intravenous magnesium, TMS stimulation, and other treatments I offer my patients). Second, I ran into (or rather gave a TV interview to) Lou Bisogni, a chiropractor who is the chiropractor for the New York Yankees. If Joe Torre, Yogi Berra, Wade Boggs, Derek Jeter, and other top Yankee players (dozens of their signed photos are on the office walls) have been entrusting their bodies to him, then obviously he must be very good.

Because my pain has lasted for almost a year, Bisogni first X-rayed my neck. I was not surprised to see that my C5-6 cervical disc was mildly degenerated and the C5 vertebra slipped slightly forward over the C6. This misalignment was what must have prevented my pain from going away. Treatment of such mild misalignments is what chiropractors are probably best at. I did tell him that I did not want high velocity adjustments and he reassured me that he wasn’t going to do any. Many chiropractors are fully aware of the risks and do avoid this type of adjustment. Instead, Bisogni would first apply TENS (transcutaneous electric nerve stimulation – an old technique often used by physical therapists as well), ultrasound, or massage, followed by a brief and gentle adjustment. The adjustment was so gentle and brief (5 minutes or so) that I was a bit skeptical about its efficacy. But to my surprise, after 5 – 6 sessions my pain dramatically improved. It is not completely gone, so I will go for a few more sessions.

I did cut back on Bikram yoga to once a week (but added some weight training instead) and modified my routine when I do it. It is possible that extreme flexion and extension of my neck, which is part of some yoga positions (rabbit, camel, pranayama breathing), might have caused my neck problem. So, I avoid flexing and extending my neck all the way as far as I can. Many yoga instructors push their students to achieve a full expression of the pose, but if your neck hurts or feels uncomfortable, tell the instructor that you’d rather not take a chance with your neck. You should definitely avoid head stands (unless you can do them without putting any pressure on your head and support yourself on the forearms) and shoulder stands, which put excessive pressure on your cervical spine. Also, the high heat in Bikram studios can be a headache trigger for some migraine sufferers and I usually recommend to my patients doing yoga at room temperature.

  1. Dr. Mauskop says: 04/18/20168:18 am

    Thank you, Susan. This is a great recommendation.

  2. Susan says: 04/17/20169:51 pm

    It would also be recommended to keep you chin locked, lower your chin and push it in a little almost creating a double chin. This will protect your neck in many poses. I keep my chin locked and find it helps greatly. I have found great success and relief with a breath centred yoga practice and regular mediation.

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