Yoga Tips for Spinal Arthritis

If you’ve been diagnosed with spinal arthritis, your healthcare provider or physical therapist may have given you an exercise program. Generally, this involves doing range-of-motion and strengthening exercises several times per day to help you manage symptoms.

Women work their hamstrings using bands.
lofilolo / Deposit Photos

In the list below are instructions for and background about the most basic types of spinal arthritis exercises, which are range of motion and strength—in that order—for low back and neck. Note that these descriptions are meant to be informative only; please see your healthcare provider or physical therapist if you need to get started with a program that directly addresses your medical condition.​

Add Some Variety to Your Spinal Arthritis Exercise Routine

Some people need to add variety to their workouts in order to keep the motivation alive. If that’s you, you might consider trying yoga in addition to your basic routine.

Debbie Turczan, a private-practice, licensed physical therapist and certified yoga teacher in New York, says yoga can range in intensity from restful to athletic, and that people with spinal arthritis will likely benefit from therapeutic poses more than challenging ones.

Getting the right yoga workout for you is largely a matter of modifying poses so they fit your individual condition as well as your level of pain, Turczan says.

"You also want to be sure you are not working in pain," she adds. (told Verywell)

In order to achieve this, Turczan advises the strategic use of pillows and bolsters. The idea here is to pick your pose correctly, she says, and then set the pillows up so they both support your body and help you stretch.

Yoga Poses for Spinal Arthritis

A supported version of child’s pose is the first exercise Turczan recommends. For this one, position pillows or bolsters lengthwise under your trunk (stacked on top of one another), and stay in the pose for up to 3 minutes. If you have stenosis, assuming supported child’s pose in this way may help open your spinal joints and bring pain relief, she says.

Legs up the wall is another therapeutic pose that Turczan recommends. In this case, she says, placing a bolster under your hips as well as against the wall may help give extension to the spine. Be sure to keep the bolster parallel with the wall, as well.

The third therapeutic yoga pose Turczan suggests for spinal arthritis symptom management is to simply lie on your side with a pillow or bolster placed under your waist. You can add a stretch to the spine on the top side by bringing both arms over your head. This pose may also help open your facet joints, Turczan adds.

Advancing Your Yoga Workout

For a slightly more advanced yoga workout, Turczan says Warrior 1 and Warrior 2 poses, along with side angle pose, may help decompress the spine.

"As long as you support these poses using your abdominal muscles, they will train you to lift the ribs up off the pelvis."

Turczan cautions people with arthritis to move very slowly when transitioning between the warrior poses and from warrior pose to side angle pose.

Active Yoga When You Have Spinal Arthritis

The most advanced yoga workout for people who have spinal arthritis is a basic, no-frills yoga sun salutation sequence. Turczan says she recommends it because it takes your spine through flexion and extension movements without adding a twist. The key to making the sun salutation appropriate for spinal arthritis, she explains, is to proceed slowly and gently, listening to your body the entire time. If you experience pain with a more advanced yoga routine, she suggests backing off, and instead working with the supported poses.

What If You Have Other Spinal Problems in Addition to Arthritis?

If the only back condition you are dealing with is spinal arthritis, yoga may prove an excellent pain management choice, as well as a fun and fulfilling challenge.

But if you have multiple back issues, doing the poses discussed above is not a safe bet,

If you have spondylosis and/or spondylolisthesis in addition to spinal arthritis, Turczan suggests focusing on beginner core stabilization exercises and working out in water. Ask your healthcare provider or physical therapist for guidance before trying a pose or sequence if you are at all unsure.

4 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Lauche R, Hunter DJ, Adams J, Cramer H. Yoga for osteoarthritis: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Curr Rheumatol Rep. 2019;21(9):47. doi: 10.1007/s11926-019-0846-5

  3. Acar Y, Ilçin N, Gürpinar B, Can G. Core stability and balance in patients with ankylosing spondylitis. Rheumatol Int. 2019;39(8):1389-1396. 10.1007/s00296-019-04341-5

  4. Liang Z, Fu C, Zhang Q, et al. Effects of water therapy on disease activity, functional capacity, spinal mobility and severity of pain in patients with ankylosing spondylitis: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Disabil Rehabil. 2021;43(7):895-902. doi:10.1080/09638288.2019.1645218.

Additional Reading
  • Telephone Interview. Debbie Turczan, MSPT, Clinical Specialist in Physical Therapy at New York Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center, New York, NY. Sept 2011.

By Anne Asher, CPT
Anne Asher, ACE-certified personal trainer, health coach, and orthopedic exercise specialist, is a back and neck pain expert.