Nothing interrupts the peaceful flow of a yoga practice quite like an injury. While yoga tends to be a strengthening and restorative practice, sometimes it can result in injuries. Here are 5 common yoga injuries and 6 easy ways to keep them from interrupting your practice.
1. Lower back injuries.
Dr. Fishman, medical director of Manhattan Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, has published dozens of papers on yoga in medicine, including a survey of 33,000 yoga practitioners, teachers, and therapists on yoga injuries. According to Dr. Fishman, lower back injuries are some of the most common yoga-related injuries. Typically, they are associated with forward bends "done too intensively by beginners, or with the back too rounded,” or backbends "when dramatically overdone.”
2. Shoulder and wrist injuries.
According to Annelise Lonidier, certified yoga instructor and owner of Atlanta's Sacred Thread Yoga, the shoulders and wrists are areas that "can be negatively impacted by yoga if something is even slightly out of alignment in chaturanga or downward dog.” Rebecca Weible, certified yoga instructor and founder of New York City's Yo Yoga!, recommends using the knees on the mat during chaturanga “to avoid unnecessary strain on the shoulders, especially if chaturanga is still new or feels really challenging to lower down correctly without dropping the hips.”
3. Neck injuries.
According to Dr. Fishman, yogis tend to develop neck injuries in the form of herniated discs. Usually, neck injuries occur during sirsasana (headstand) and salamba sarvangasana (shoulderstand). Specifically, practitioners developed injuries due to poor head placement “either too far forward on the forehead, and especially too far back,” said Dr. Fishman
4. Knee injuries.
Warrior pose is the culprit when it comes to knee injuries. According to Dr. Fishman, the knee is most frequently injured in virabhadrasana (warrior I and II) and virasana (hero’s pose) due to over-flexion of the knee. Balancing poses and even the lotus pose can also hurt the knees when too much pressure is put on them.
5. Pulled hamstrings.
According to Lonidier, pulled hamstrings are often a result of “pushing too deep into forward folds or splits.” As Weible puts it, “people do not always understand that sometimes less is more when it comes to stretching.”
A simple fix for this? Weible recommends bending the knees in forward folds to prevent excess muscle strain.
How to Avoid Yoga Injuries
1. Let go of your ego.
According to Dr. Fishman, the most common cause of yoga injuries is overdoing it, "whether from ego, perfectionism, or over-enthusiasm.” One of the easiest ways to avoid injury is to let go of your ego. Understand your limitations and focus on improvement and correctness of poses, rather than competition.
2. Take your time.
As Lonidier notes, “People are human and in general we want to 'do' something but don't always have an interest in 'learning how to do' something. Yoga is an exercise in delayed gratification... and that means that to get some of the most complex or challenging postures, you have to turn in and begin to understand how your body moves.”
3. Find a guide.
While there are plenty of yoga videos available online, Lonidier strongly recommends “a flesh and blood teacher,” unless a home practice is a necessity. Look for a teacher who pays attention to your practice, gives you direction, and takes the time to work with you. Don’t be afraid to ask for help or suggestions.
4. Be wary of hyperflexibility.
While it’s exciting to become increasingly flexible as a part of your yoga practice, it is all too easy to take this too far. As Lonidier notes, “If we exploit these excessively open areas it creates a bigger imbalance, and that is a dangerous spiral.”
5. Adopt a yin practice.
A slow-paced yin practice is restorative in that it targets connective tissue, not muscles. While Lonidier knows a slow practice isn’t always appealing to everyone, she says to view yin like flossing: even if you don’t like making time for it, do it anyway because it’s good for you.
6. Listen to your pain.
While our default mode is to think pain = bad, according to Dr. Fishman, there is “good” pain and “bad” pain. And you have to listen to both. While good pain develops gradually with stretching, bad pain is abrupt, severe, and sharp. As soon as you feel bad pain, you need to stop ASAP.
While it’s always important to be mindful in your practice, Dr. Fishman is careful to remind us of how safe yoga typically is. As he puts it, yoga injuries “aren’t so common.” Statistics suggest that less than 1 in 1,000 yogis ever end up in an emergency room!