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Amputation

Headstands and neck safety

09/24/2007

Question:

I have monor arthritis and a herniated disk in my neck that has never caused any symptoms. I do yoga but skip the headstands. Most of the weight goes into the shoulders when doing headstands correctly. Common sense tells me that any weight on the neck could cause a disk to herniate and or make a herniated disk worse. My instructor seems to think that headstands will strengthen neck muscles and ultimately ease the pressure on disks. What is your opinion about the safety of headstands?

Answer:

For you to know you have a herniated disc in your neck, you must have had an MRI scan, but since you state you've never had any symptoms, the MRI scan you must have undergone could maybe have been performed as part of a research study? Anyway, since you have no pain, you can't use pain to guide you at this time.

My search of a number of databases failed to reveal an evidence-based answer to your question.

Disc pain is usually worsened by positions and activities which increase disc pressure. As you mentioned, a headstand would be expected to increase pressure in the discs in your neck. For that reason, in the presence of a known disc herniation, conventional strengthening and cervico-thoraco-scapular stabilization exercises, flexibility exercises, and instruction regarding proper posture and body mechanics would be a more common and less potentially detrimental recommendation compared to performing headstands.

A history and physical examination by a physician with expertise in spine disorders would be an appropriate way to determine the suitability of performing headstands in your particular case.

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Response by:

Brian L Bowyer, MD Brian L Bowyer, MD
Clinical Associate Professor
Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation
College of Medicine
The Ohio State University