Yoga Treatment for Cervical Spondylitis

Author: Fion

 The cervical spine is the spinal column of the neck, made up of seven small circular bones or vertebrae stacked on top of each other. In between each vertebra is the intervertebral disc which acts as a shock absorber and allows movements of the spine. Muscles and ligaments are attached to the vertebrae, and nerves of the spinal column run down the vertebrae to the shoulders, neck, arm & the upper chest.




What is cervical spondylitis? As we age, the bones & cartilage that make up our spine and neck gradually deteriorate, causing thinning of the space in intervertebral discs due to loss of gel lubricating the disc. Stiffness and the immobility of the spine increase. Sometimes, irregular bony outgrowth of spurs call osteophytes, are formed to increase the surface area stabilizing the vertebral joints. This process of degeneration of the spine can only be detected on X-rays. They can show any narrowing of spaces, obstructing blood flows to spinal column and rear portion of the brain. Bone spurs may compress on cervical nerve roots causing swelling, resulting in aches & pains in the neck, upper back and the arms.




Cervical spondylitis can be developed with just a jerk, such as stopping the car when driving. Prolonged periods of sitting postures with the neck bending down, such as sewing, reading, or a job involving paper work, and even the habit of using high pillow during sleep may also affect the condition.




Symptoms include muscle spasms, causing stiffness in the neck region, and restricting movements of the neck and head. Spasms of muscles affect blood supply to the brain, resulting in tension headaches & postural tension. Numbness, tingling sensations, and pain in arms or fingers, giddiness, and ringing in the ears may also be experienced with compression of nerve roots.


Treatment & Limitation


In our daily life, forward bending of neck is unavoidable when we sit, eat, work, drive, etc. Neck pain to many people may mean mere muscle tension due to stress or strain. Signs of degeneration of the cervical spine may not be visible until later in our life when the condition worsens and diagnosed by an imaging test, i.e. x-ray.


To reduce the pains, stiffness or muscle spasm, treatments are sought. They include the use of analgesics and muscle relaxants, and in more severe cases, injections. Furthermore, shortwave diathermy receiving current helps relax the muscles & relieve the pain, and cervical traction. Neck braces may be used to steady the neck. If both the above treatments fail, surgery is required to decompress the nerves. Treatments mentioned above  give temporary relief, may have side effects, or cause more pain after the treatment, according to patients. Also, these treatments will be costly.



Yogic Management


Switching to yoga to treat early stages of cervical spondylitis not only saves money, the patient doesn’t need to worry about unpunctuality in taking medicines. Benefits are plentiful if the patentiundertakes yoga treatment. A few practices are as follows:


Asanas – Strengthen & improve flexibility of neck & back muscles, promote blood circulation to spine.


Pranayama – More prana is directed to all parts of the body, relaxing all muscles and calming the mind.


Meditation – One pointed awareness to our breathing and affected areas helps in healing and relaxing both our body & mind. 


Shatkarmas – Purification process that clears blockages of prana in the energy channels in our pranic body, thereby attaining purification and balance, physically and mentally.


Omkar – The use of energy by means of sound as vibration to heal and calm the body & mind.


Diet – If the right diet intake is followed strictly with understanding of the disease, worsening of the condition will be reduced or prevented.  


Lifestyle recommendations – This part may share some recommendation in Do's & Dont's below. 


Others – apply mud on the head for 30 minutes. kati basti on affected area with sanjeevan oil can relieve muscles pains caused by cervical spondylitis.



Contra Indications


Asanas- Sufferers of cervical spondylitis are prohibited from any forward bending asanas as well as inverted poses such as savangsana, halasana etc. As they both put strain or pressure on the neck where the vertebrae get closer, these asanas will cause in further compression of the nerve roots, causing more pain. 


Pranayama- Fast breathing, Chandra Bheda, and Bhastrika are prohibited, and should never incorporate khumbaka with any pranayama.. Avoid Vaman dhouti and Shankha Prakshalana whether it is laghoo or poorna.


Bandhas- Jalandhara bandha is definitely not recommended as it demands forward bending of neck locking the chin to the chest.


Diet- Avoid non-vegetarian food, hot, spicy or fried food, or sweet products made of flour such as buns, cakes, muffins or any cold substances. Milk or dairy products, tea, coffee, fast food, or foods that are processed, refined, preserved are not recommended.



Do’s & Don’ts


When there is a need to turn to the side or to the back, first turn your body with your feet.

When getting up from lying down, turn to one side first, and use support from your arms. 

Take rest after prolonged periods of sitting while holding the head in the same position, such as     watching TV, working on the computer, driving, etc.

Do not bear weight on neck or back, such as lifting weights at a gym.

Prevent high impact activities, such as running.

Avoid any rocky roads when travelling.

Use firm mattress. 

Practice yoga consistently.

Have patience and perseverance with practice.

Lie in shavasana in between poses.

Avoid massage with deep pressure.

Morning walks give some relief, but protect the neck from cold weather.

Have meals before noon from 10am, and before 7pm before 5pm where digestive fire or energy is at at its best for digestion.

Do not snack in between meal times.

Fast once at week.



General program for the patient


Patient has to take note that:


Each movement must be slow, comfortable and steady.

Patent should not strain to get into posture if it is difficult.

Every movement or each asana has to incorporate in breathing and concentration on neck or muscle parts that are working.

No forward bending or bending the neck down under all circumstances.

Lean against the wall for support if sitting or standing is not comfortable.

May use thin pillow to support the shoulder while in supine position.

Support chin on the mat or turn to the side while in prone position.

Lie in shavasana or any relaxation pose at anytime if feeling tired.



Duration (min) 




Option or Variation







Omkar Chanting





Gayatri Mantra





Basic Movement

Arm, neck, wrist, fingers, shoulder movements

Slow movements. Strengthens & release tension



Vajrasana Series


Stretches & loosens the spine, relaxes the entire back region,  encourages deeper breathing 

Do not strain, do to one’s capacity. Hands may support chin or may use elbow to support the chest while in bhujangsana







Ardha Matsyendrasana

(half spinal twist)

Seated with one leg over the knee of the other leg.

Releases tension of the back and neck.

One leg can be kept straight, while keeping another leg crossed over the knee of another. Hand can wrap around the bent knee.


Dhanurasana (Bow pose)


Improves blood circulation; ligaments, muscles & nerves are activated & removes stiffness. Frees nervous energy in the cervical, and improves respiration. 

Do not strain the back or neck while get into the pose. Upper back can feel stress after legs are lifted. Simpler form can be done, there is no need to lift the thigh. Make sure neck is not bent downwards. Concentrate on breathing.


Shalabasana (Locust pose)


Tones the back, stimulate the nerves. 

Keep both hands by the side or under the thigh. Touch chin to floor to support weight of upper body while lifting the legs at the back.


Makarasana (Crocodile pose)


Relaxes the entire back. 

Turn neck to one side instead of touching forehead to floor.


Gomuktasana (Cow’s face)

Seated with legs folded with both knees on top of each other, clasp hands behind back.

Relaxation pose Removes tiredness, tension, stiffness in shoulders & back. Opens chest area to enable maximum breathing capacity, increasing energy, awareness. 

Can use a towel to hold if hands behind cannot be clasped together.


Arkana Dhanurasana (Bow & arrow)


Works deep into muscles of neck & upper back which accumulate tensions causing stiffness and pain. The act of relaxing & tensing relaxes the muscles.



Tadasana, Tiryak Tadasan


Relaxes the entire back

Stand with both legs open hip width apart for easier balancing


Sheetali/Shitkari Purek Brahmari Rechak


Sheetali/Shitkari is a soothing breath that tranquilizes the mind. It induces muscles relaxation. Brahmari relieves stress and tension that cause aches & pains in the back.



Ujjayi without kumbhak


Tranquilizing breathing, soothes nervous system and calms the mind.








Omkar Chanting










90 mins










Jala Neti  (do at least once a week)





Yoga Nidra (Once a day for about 30-40 mins)







Research related to the treatment of the disease with yoga techniques


Refer to Yoga Mimansa, the Scientific Journal of Kaivalyadham, Vol 30, No. 4.1, on New dimension in the diagnosis and yogic treatment of Cervical Spondylitis Spondylosis, by Dr Rakesh Giri. A 4-week yoga camp was organized at Govt, Yoga Health Organization, Chandigarh. Total of 20 patients underwent for management of cervical spondylitis. Usual diagnostic procedures were undertaken to confirm cervical spondylitis causes muscular imbalance in the neck, shoulder blades, arms & hands. 


The findings revealed that muscular imbalance:

Causes inequality of finger tips of patients on both the hands

The side of body with shorter fingers (hereby we call it –ve side) has shoulder that is elevated due to shortening of muscles.

While the shoulder on the other side (+ve side) was found to be “lower” due to undue stretching of muscles & ligaments.

Numbness or tingling sensation on the arms and fingers on the –ve side due to less blood flow.


The inequality of hands along with other signs & symptoms of cervical spondylitis such as gastric disorders such as constipation, acidity, cough, heart ailments was considered as criteria in diagnosis. One observation found in in accordance with Swara Yoga is that patients with a short left side has predominant flow of breath through the right nostril. They showed tendency of dislike for hot or heating food like tea, coffee, ginger, garlic, hot weather, and has a liking for cold potency like ice cream, radish, curd, buttermilk. Likewise, patients with the shorter right side were found to be on the reverse.



Techniques to Correct Muscular Imbalance


Patient was asked to stand with spine straight and hold the hands at the back by bringing the +ve arm up (elbow pointing up to ceiling), and -ve arm (elbow pointing down). Such posture is like the hand posture done in Gomuktasana. Patient was asked to bend backwards and hold on for about 30 secs. Repetition of postures about 3-5 times til the equality of hands are reached.


Assistance was given to patient by pulling a backward pull the upper +ve arm, and an upward pull to the -ve arm in aiding the revival of equality of hands caused by muscular imbalance.



Asanas taught to improve the curvature of the spine included:


1) Bhujasana (with or without support of arm)

2) Ustrasana

3) Dhanurasana

4) Shashankasana

5) Kati Bhujangasana


…and a few modifications to original pose not mentioned here, due to different asana names used by author, pose unknown.


With this, patients were required to practice shavasana in between the asanas and also yoga nidra has to be practiced everyday to relieve tension. 



Dietary Instructions:


To overcome muscular weakness, patients are advised to include calcium, iron & vitamins rich diet. However, they were permitted to take Homeopathic/Ayurveda medicines prescribed for deficiency in calcium, iron & vitamins. 



The results:

1) Symptoms of muscular imbalance was relieved within 24-48 hours.

2) X-ray was taken at end of camp confirming that 10 patients were cured of cervical spondylitis.

3) 6 patients had only 70-780% relieve of their muscular or ligaments injuries, but cured after 8 weeks of yogic treatment.

4) 3 patients had only 60% relieve on the sign & symptoms due to their irregular attendance to classes, as well as nature of their profession. But their problem was cured at end of 8 weeks of yogic practices.

5) 1 patient, who had deficiency in calcium and iron, and also accidental injury, reported a 60-80% recovery after 3 months of yogic practices.