You’ve probably had it happen once or twice, I know I have. I’m going through an amazing yoga flow and feeling great when I realize that something in my body doesn’t feel right.
I stretched a little too far and have unfortunately pulled, strained or sprained a muscle. Physical activity is good for you. But if you’re not mindful, there is always a risk of injury.
In a yoga class, it’s the job of the yoga teacher to cue you to tune inward to notice your breath and body. Ideally, your teacher also assists you with your alignment and refines the poses to best support your unique anatomy and help mitigate injury.
During your own practice or when you watch one of my videos on YouTube, always listen to your body and try to remember the training you’ve had in a class to reduce the risk of injury. Honor your musculoskeletal system by tuning into your breath (hint: if your breath shortens or constricts, it’s a sign you’ve gone too far.)
For many students, this can be a trial-and-error process. It can be hard to discern what’s malleable in the body versus not. Let’s talk about some common yoga injuries and how you can prevent injury.
Tips For Yoga Injury Prevention
When a yoga injury occurs, it can result in pain, swelling, and limited mobility. The severity and duration of the injury will vary depending on the type of yoga related injuries, and extent of the damage. In some cases an injury can be minor and self monitored.
In other cases, you may want to consult with your yoga teacher, personal trainer, or physical therapist. This is how I see most injuries happen (so you can avoid them!):
Not enough stability!
It’s the overly mobile people who actually run more of a risk of injury in yoga. If you’re a hypermobile yogi, you have greater range of motion in your joints than most people.
Do you push past your limits due to being super mobile? 😲
While it’s amazing that your body has this kind of range of motion, it can lead to yoga injuries like overstretching or even tearing your muscles, ligaments, or tendons around certain joints. If you’re a yogi with hypermobility (hint: you hyperextend your elbows, can easily sit on the floor or get yourself into a split), make sure you are honoring your body by having a healthy balance of strength and flexibility.
Take my quiz: Tight Hips? Know if Your Hips are Tight *30-Second Quiz
Experiencing a yoga related injury can be super frustrating and discouraging especially if you are a new yogi or those who are so passionate about their yoga practice. An injury can limit your ability to practice certain yoga poses or even participate in classes.
The Uplifted perspective to prevent injuries emphasizes the importance of practicing yoga mindfully with awareness of your ingrained habits and tendencies. Make sure you’re doing the following:
- Listen to your body
- Hone in on your breath – if you find that your breath is short and shallow or you’ve stopped breathing, you’ve gone too far and are risking injury.
- Honor your limitations
- Modify and adapt poses as needed
- Hold an awareness of your ingrained tendencies (do you love to push yourself, for example?) and cultivate the opposite qualities (for example, backing off).
- Practice with a qualified yoga teacher who can provide proper alignment cues and modifications for you.
As a yoga teacher it is important to create a safe and uplifting environment for your students, and to provide clear and concise instructions on proper alignment and modifications with respect to all different bodies and abilities.
Yoga is not a one size fits all practice and the goal is not the pose but the movement of the body. This is why I teach progressive cuing, catered toward the individual, and why my online yoga teacher training manual is so thick!
Common Yoga Injuries
So what are the most common yoga injuries? You could experience pain in areas such as the lower back, wrists, shoulders, rotator cuffs, neck, hips and knees. It’s important to know that sometimes the pain or overstretching may not be felt immediately.
When practicing yoga, you should also be mindful of any existing injuries or chronic pain you may have. The following are some frequently cited “yoga injury spots”.
Lower Back Pain After Yoga
Lower back pain is a common injury amongst yogis. Ironic, since many yogis come to yoga because of low back pain! If you are new to your practice or have an existing injury to your lower back, you may be more susceptible.
This pain can happen during more advanced poses such as deep backbends like camel pose, forward bend, wheel pose, forward bends, and twists like revolved triangle pose.
When you’re trying to heal or ease any pain during or after yoga, it is important to identify the cause of the pain whether it’s due to improper alignment, overstretching or even holding a pose too long.
To avoid injury, make sure that you and your yoga teacher are looking at your alignment and making any and all necessary corrections as well as utilizing modifications! Remember, modifications are your best friend and one of the keys to a successful practice.
In some cases, like those with chronic low back pain, child’s pose can help relieve some of it temporarily. While you’re in the pose you can imagine lengthening your back and releasing tension.
Some quick tips for preventing lower back pain in yoga include:
- Practicing with awareness and mindfulness
- Focusing on building core strength and stability
- Using props, such as blocks and straps for support
- Warming up properly before practicing poses that involve deep backbends, or forward fold.
- Take breaks and modify poses as needed.
Got lower back pain? Try these yoga poses for back pain.
Wrist pain in yoga is commonly caused by repetitive strain or overuse of the wrists in weight-bearing poses. There are certain poses that can be particularly problematic for the wrists (too much down dog is not a good thing!). You should be mindful of your wrists in poses where you’re bearing your body weight such as down dog, plank pose, and arm balances like crow pose.
Some tips yoga practitioners can use to prevent injury to the wrists include:
- Warming up your wrists before practicing weight-bearing poses.
- Using props such as blocks or a rolled up blanket to provide extra support for the wrists.
- Building wrist strength and flexibility through targeted exercises and stretches
- Modifying poses as needed to decrease weight-bearing on the wrists. Consider plank pose on the forearms or Cat/Cow with your hands in fists.
- Avoiding overuse of the wrists in daily activities outside of your yoga practice (stop texting and typing so much!)
Got wrist pain? Try these yoga poses for wrist pain.
If you are experiencing shoulder pain during or after your yoga practice, it could be due to overuse, repetitive strain, existing injuries, or incorrect alignment. Similar to wrist pain, poses that involve weight-bearing on the hands or arms like down dog, chaturanga, and crow pose that have full body weight or involves arm balances can cause problems if you’re not being mindful of your body’s alignment and limitations.
To help mitigate shoulder pain, I recommend using props as always and making sure you do it privately with your yoga instructor or physical therapist. They can recommend exercises for you to do to help build up shoulder strength.
Got shoulder pain? Try these yoga poses for knee pain.
Yoga Rotator Cuff Injury
Rotator cuff pain can occur when there is irritation or injury to the muscles and tendons of the rotator cuff. Weight-bearing poses like downward dog, chaturanga, and crow pose can lead to pain and injury to the rotator cuff.
For those that have pre-existing injuries to the rotator cuffs, swimmers come to mind, it is important to listen to your body and utilize modifications. You will also want to consult your yoga teacher for help with alignment adjustments.
With any injury, if pain persists, talk to your doctor or physical therapist as they can give you the proper exercises to help strengthen your rotator cuffs and may even suggest not participating in a certain pose. I’ve had an injury in this muscle group and strengthening (not stretching) was key!
What I see commonly with neck pain is that poses are not being done with accurate alignment. You have to be careful with neck related poses as you can cause muscle strain and injury to the ligaments in the neck.
Your cervical vertebrae are small and delicate. But many people whip their head around (especially in twists). Be gentle!
Poses that require extreme flexion (bending forward) of the neck like shoulder stands, plow pose and headstands can put pressure on the neck and spine leading to injury.
It is incredibly important to practice yoga poses like these with mindfulness to your neck and spine as you can severely hurt yourself. Some tips to help prevent neck pain or injury include:
- Practicing poses that promote spinal alignment and reduce pressure on the neck like cat-cow, child’s pose and mountain pose.
- Utilizing props like blankets or blocks for extra support.
- Avoiding poses that put excessive pressure on the neck or require extreme neck movements. Many of my students love the “Feet Up” table to practice inversions safely, or I use my Yoga Trapeze.
- Building neck strength and flexibility through targeted exercises and stretches.
- Being mindful of your body alignment and engaging your core to support the spine during practice.
Got knee pain? Try these yoga poses for knee pain.
Hip pain can occur for a variety of reasons. Some include overuse or injury to the muscles and joints in the hips, poor alignment, or pre-existing conditions for tight hips like arthritis or hip impingement.
Poses that are commonly correlated to hip pain are pigeon pose, lotus pose and seated forward folds. These poses are not accessible to most bodies due to skeletal limitations. These poses in particular require deep hip rotation which can lead to pain in the hips. Review this video Imbalanced Actions of the Hips inside training for more details.
To help prevent pain in your hips during your yoga practice, follow these guidelines.
- Practice hip opening poses and poses that promote hip flexibility and strength like lunges and warrior poses.
- Balance these with hip adduction poses (like eagle or cow face pose)
- Avoid poses that require that deep hip rotation for double lotus.
- Be extremely mindful of how you transition from seated to standing and vice versa.
- Gradually build up to the more challenging poses.
Got tight hips? Try these yoga poses for tight hips.
With any yoga poses that engage your knees, you’ll want to make sure that you have proper alignment in your poses as well as be aware of any existing injuries like arthritis or meniscus tears.
Poses that can lead to knee pain if not done correctly or mindfully include, yogi squats, lotus pose, pigeon pose and hero pose.
I’ve laid out some tips to help prevent knee injuries or pain so that you can continue to practice these yoga poses safely.
- Practice poses that promote knee stability and strength like chair pose and warrior poses.
- Use props like blocks for extra support. Practice against a wall!
- Avoid deep squats or poses that require flexion or extension of your knees if you have pre-existing knee problems.
- Do Ankle to Knee instead of Pigeon pose.
- Never torque your knee by asking it to rotate. This often means backing off of more advanced postures.
Got knee pain? Try these yoga poses for knee pain.
It can be SO discouraging if you experience an injury during your yoga practice. Keep in mind that most of our bodies are not meant to bend into a thousand different ways. That’s completely okay! Your yoga practice is just that – yours. Go at your own pace and listen to your body during your sessions.
If you’re not sure that a certain pose is causing injury or pain, journal! Make note of the pain as well as what poses you did during your practice in your yoga journal. You may be able to find the common denominator there.
Once you’ve identified it, meet with your yoga instructor and use the expert advice as to how you can mitigate the pain or avoid it altogether.
You may think “well this is a commonly taught yoga pose, it should be easy for me to do without injury.” That’s not the case. With any pose there are many factors that go into executing them correctly. Pay attention to your body and what it’s telling you. Those small pinches you may write off as “nothing” could be something. My number #1 rule is to tune inward and use your breath as a barometer of how far you should go.
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