Leg behind head and neck pain

Leg Behind Head Pose and Neck Pain

Christine Torso, Yoga Injuries, Your Questions 2 Comments

Transcript Below Of: Leg Behind Head and Neck Pain

Hey everybody!
I’m going to answer another question of the month for you. Before I get started, on this month’s topic of leg behind head and neck pain, make sure you’ve gone over to yoganatomy.com and signed up for my newsletter. You’ll get the latest articles in your inbox and find out about some of the courses I’ve got on yoganatomy.com.

The Question:

This question on leg behind head and neck pain comes from Alyssa. “Hi David. I’ve always had neck issues: neck pain, muscle stiffness, and inflammation, limited cervical mobility. I hate practicing eka pada and dwi pada sirsasana. [DK: That’s one foot or two feet behind head, if you’re doing a type of practice where you don’t do that.] An MRI showed some herniated disks, C5-C6, bad, C6-C7, moderate, which sheds some light on why those poses have felt so terrible for years, when I see other people become more comfortable in them over time. 

I’ll get to the point. I don’t want to practice those poses. They don’t feel good and they make my neck hurt. The neurosurgeon, who practices yoga, said I shouldn’t be doing them. From either an anatomical safety lens or an Ashtanga tradition perspective, should my practice now end at ardha matsyendrasana or can I modify those postures, like leg-over-the-shoulder, but not behind the head and keep going?”

The Answer:

Wow, a couple of big questions there. First, I’m glad you got to the bottom of the probable reason why those postures didn’t feel very good. Your big question is from an anatomical safety perspective, should you be doing single foot or double foot behind head posture? Probably not. You’ve got the neurosurgeon who does practice yoga who probably understands a lot of the ins and outs and do’s and don’t of practice already and has experienced it so he understands increasing range of motion and all that kind of stuff and he’s not just telling you not to do it because it looks crazy. It’s probably a good idea to listen to them. You don’t typically find those kinds of problems getting better over time. They typically get worse, so, I’m okay with you modifying them.

Are you okay with you modifying them? I say that from a distance. I don’t know you. I don’t know your practice. Because you’re reaching out to ask me, my basic assumption is that you don’t have a regular teacher or somebody that you check in with. You’re probably a home practitioner, of which there are thousands. If you need somebody’s permission, you’ve got mine. You can modify those postures. Leg-over-shoulder sounded good. If you really wanted to work the external rotation, maybe you put in a lying pigeon posture or something like that, just to get pressure in there. And yes, keep going. I wouldn’t say that your practice should now end at ardha matsyendrasana. Just let it keep going. Add in little by little. And better yet, find a teacher who you’re comfortable with, who you connect with, and who can guide you as you do these kinds of modifications and continue to do your practice.

I hope that helped!

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Comments 2

  1. Alyssa, I just read your question about feet behind the head poses. The cervical or neck spine is very delicate and contains not just muscles and bones but nerves, arteries and veins. ( see below for details) Definitely stop doing feet behind the head poses and any movements that place pressure on the neck. Your neurosurgeon is absolutely correct and I would also advise you to avoid plow, shoulder-stand and headstand as well. The neck spine is not designed to hold the weight of the lower body and certainly feet behind the head also puts enormous pressure on the neck spine and the disc injuries you have. These types of poses are very dangerous to the neck spine and the hip joint and there appears to be no real benefit in doing them. It is quite probably that doing dwi pada and eka pada may have actually caused the cervical disc injuries you now have. You can heal the discs by avoiding loaded spinal flexion and hyper-extension of the neck and by strengthening your neck muscles to support the cervical spine. There is no need to try and follow any series of poses but instead work towards healing your neck spine and avoid yoga poses and exercises that compress the neck. Structures in the neck include: Anatomically, the root of the neck is the area where the neck attaches to the thorax (the part of the trunk between the neck and the abdomen, including the chest). It’s home to several important nerves and blood vessels that pass between the head, neck, thorax, and upper extremities.

    NERVES
    Quite a few nerves reside in the root of the neck:

    Vagus nerves: These cranial nerves travel in the carotid sheath with the internal jugular vein and common carotid arteries before moving into the thorax. Brachiocephalic trunk: This artery branches off the arch of the aorta just behind the manubrium. It moves to the right and divides into the right common carotid and right subclavian arteries.

    Right and left subclavian arteries: The right subclavian branches off the brachiocephalic trunk, and the left subclavian starts from the arch of the aorta. Both arteries have several branches:

    The vertebral artery runs through the foramina of the transverse processes of the first six cervical vertebrae.

    The internal thoracic artery runs into the thorax.

    The thyrocervical trunk has several branches: the suprascapular artery, which supplies blood to the muscles on the back of the scapula, and the cervicodorsal trunk, which branches off into the dorsal scapular and superficial cervical arteries (sometimes the dorsal scapular artery branches off the subclavian artery). The dorsal scapular artery supplies the levator scapulae and rhomboid muscles of the upper back. The inferior thyroid artery also stems from the thyrocervical trunk. It supplies blood to the thyroid and parathyroid glands and the larynx, plus it sends blood to muscles of the neck.

    The costocervical trunk gives rise to superior intercostal and deep cervical arteries.

    Veins accompany the arteries in the root of the neck. They return blood to the heart from the head:

    image0.jpg
    External jugular vein: This vein drains blood from the scalp and face and empties into the subclavian vein lateral to the internal jugular vein.

    Anterior jugular vein: This vein drains blood from superficial submandibular veins and drains to the external jugular vein or the subclavian vein.

    Left and right anterior jugular veins: These two veins join to form the jugular venous arch.

    Subclavian vein: This vein begins near the 1st rib and joins the internal jugular vein in the anterior cervical triangle where it forms the brachiocephalic vein. This area is called the venous angle.

    Phrenic nerves: These nerves arise from the 3rd, 4th, and 5th cervical nerves and descend into the thorax to innervate the diaphragm.

    Cervical portion of the sympathetic trunks: These trunks are located to the front and sides of the cervical vertebrae. They contain the superior, middle, and inferior cervical sympathetic ganglia.

    BLOOD VESSELS
    Here are the main arteries in the root of the neck: Brachiocephalic trunk: This artery branches off the arch of the aorta just behind the manubrium. It moves to the right and divides into the right common carotid and right subclavian arteries.

    Right and left subclavian arteries: The right subclavian branches off the brachiocephalic trunk, and the left subclavian starts from the arch of the aorta. Both arteries have several branches:

    The vertebral artery runs through the foramina of the transverse processes of the first six cervical vertebrae.

    The internal thoracic artery runs into the thorax.

    The thyrocervical trunk has several branches: the suprascapular artery, which supplies blood to the muscles on the back of the scapula, and the cervicodorsal trunk, which branches off into the dorsal scapular and superficial cervical arteries (sometimes the dorsal scapular artery branches off the subclavian artery). The dorsal scapular artery supplies the levator scapulae and rhomboid muscles of the upper back. The inferior thyroid artery also stems from the thyrocervical trunk. It supplies blood to the thyroid and parathyroid glands and the larynx, plus it sends blood to muscles of the neck.

    The costocervical trunk gives rise to superior intercostal and deep cervical arteries.

    Veins accompany the arteries in the root of the neck. They return blood to the heart from the head:

    image0.jpg
    External jugular vein: This vein drains blood from the scalp and face and empties into the subclavian vein lateral to the internal jugular vein.

    Anterior jugular vein: This vein drains blood from superficial submandibular veins and drains to the external jugular vein or the subclavian vein.

    Left and right anterior jugular veins: These two veins join to form the jugular venous arch.

    Subclavian vein: This vein begins near the 1st rib and joins the internal jugular vein in the anterior cervical triangle where it forms the brachiocephalic vein. This area is called the venous angle.

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