Moderation is key to avoiding yoga-related injury when bending and stretching
Yoga is a physical, mental and spiritual discipline, originating in ancient India, that involves a series of stretching, posing and breathing exercises. When done correctly and in moderation, yoga can provide excellent conditioning and exercise; reduce stress; maintain joint and musculoskeletal health; and in some individuals, relieve joint or muscle pain.
However, some of the more strenuous and complicated poses can cause injury to the neck, shoulders, lower back or knees. Individuals with severe osteoporosis, high or low blood pressure, inner ear problems, known degenerative problems, or pregnancy, are at greater risk for injury.
According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, more than 7,369 Americans were treated in hospitals, doctors’ offices and emergency rooms for yoga-related injuries in 2010.
AAOS Expert Advice:
“Yoga is a popular activity with many benefits,” said Raj Rao, MD, a Milwaukee-based orthopaedic surgeon and American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) spokesperson. “A good yoga program – that slowly progresses to more difficult poses and more strenuous activity – can lower a person’s heart rate, improve muscle and joint conditioning, decrease pain, and contribute to an overall sense of physical and mental well-being.
“However, as in any activity, moderation and caution are key,” said Dr. Rao. ”If not done properly, or if someone embarks on a strenuous yoga program without guidance, it can cause serious pain or discomfort, and even injury.”
AAOS Safety Tips to Avoid Injury:
- Work with a qualified yoga instructor. Ask about his or her experience and credentials. If you choose to use a yoga DVD at home, look for one that comes highly recommended by your physician or other reliable sources.
- Warm up thoroughly before a yoga session--cold muscles, tendons and ligaments are vulnerable to injury. Make sure you cool down as well to relax your muscles and restore your resting heart rate and breathing rhythm.
- Wear appropriate clothing that allows for proper movement. Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of fluids.
- Select the class level that is appropriate for you. Start by taking a single beginner or introductory class before signing up for a complete session or class series. Also, consider taking yoga more than once a week. Individuals who take just one class a week are more susceptible to injury.
- If you are unsure of a pose or movement, ask questions. If you are older, your instructor should be able to suggest modified positions.
- Know your limits. Do not try positions beyond your experience or comfort level. Beginners should start slowly and learn the basics first, focusing on gentle stretching and breathing rather than trying to accomplish difficult poses.
- Learn what type of yoga you are performing. There are hundreds of different forms of yoga, some more strenuous than others. It is important to learn which type of yoga will best suit your needs.
- Listen to your body. If you experience pain or exhaustion while participating in yoga, stop or take a break. If pain persists, speak with a physician.
- Discuss any known illness or injury with your yoga instructor prior to the class so that he or she can recommend pose modifications.
- If you have an underlying joint or spinal injury or arthritis, gentle stretching helps avoid stiffness. Remember, however, that just as in all other activity, flare ups of pain or injury may occur with yoga if tissues are stretched or stressed too quickly and beyond their physiologic level.