Yoga is generally thought to be a gentle form of exercise that most people can do on some level. But new research has found that yoga can actually be pretty hardcore and can cause more injuries than you’d probably think.
The findings, which are published in Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies, found that yoga causes musculoskeletal pain in 10 percent of people and exacerbates 21 percent of existing injuries. Surprisingly, that 10 percent is comparable to the injury rate of all sports injuries.
For the study, researchers had 354 people from two suburban yoga studios respond to a questionnaire about their age, experience, hours of yoga each week, and how intensely they did yoga, as well as any forms of pain or injuries they experienced. The study participants then filled out the questionnaire again a year later.
The researchers discovered that most new yoga pain was in people’s upper extremities — their shoulders, elbows, wrists, and hands — which may be due to poses like downward dog that put pressure and weight on those areas. While some injuries were minor, others weren’t. The researchers discovered that more than a third of injuries lasted more than three months and caused people to skip yoga entirely. It’s why the researchers urge people to tell their doctor if they’re doing yoga and to also let their yoga teachers know about any injuries they have before class starts.
It may sound surprising that something as seemingly innocent as yoga could cause injury, and especially a serious injury, but Albert Matheny, a trainer and exercise physiologist in New York City, tells Yahoo Beauty that it’s just like any other form of working out. “Yoga can make you sore like anything else and can cause injury like any other activity,” he says. Injuries are also often exacerbated by stretching, which features heavily in yoga, he points out.
People may also be especially likely to push themselves before they’re ready in yoga, which increases the likelihood they’ll get injured, Doug Sklar, a certified personal trainer and founder of the New York City fitness training studio PhilanthroFIT, tells Yahoo Beauty. “Yoga, like any form of exercise, should be respected in its progressions,” he says. “When it comes to exercise, people often make the mistake of too much too soon. It can be tempting to jump right to higher level work if you see others around you performing more advanced moves. However, the movements, poses, and body positions involved in yoga require a slow and steady progression.” And, of course, doing too much yoga — or any form of exercise, for that matter — can put you at an increased risk of injury, Sklar says.
Sasha Cyrelson, clinical director at the New Jersey-based Professional Physical Therapy, tells Yahoo Beauty that it’s best to move through yoga slowly and gently, especially if you’re a beginner. “You have to move encouragingly into a stretch, not forcefully,” she says. “If you move forcefully, you will end up with an injury.” Flexibility is important, she says, but you have to move to the point of stretch and then hold it for a sustained period to allow the muscle to lengthen.
To lower the odds you’ll suffer a yoga injury, Sklar recommends being honest with yourself and your abilities. If you’re a beginner, progress carefully before moving on to more advanced moves. A good instructor can make a difference too, Matheny notes. And, as with all forms of exercise, listen to your body. “Everyone’s body is built differently,” Matheny says. “What may be OK for one person can create an impingement for another person, which can lead to injury.”
If you’re not sure how skilled you are at yoga or don’t know if you’re ready to take your practice to the next level, talk to your instructor. He or she should be able to steer you in the right direction.
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