Last week we covered seven basic, overarching ways to avoid yoga-related injuries. Now, let’s dive deeper into some of the most common body parts that yogis injure - and learn practical ways to protect yourself.
Hamstrings: One of the most common body parts that can get injured due to yoga is your hamstrings. Forcing your legs straight into any pose - whether you’re standing, sitting, or lying down - can damage your hamstring muscles. This kind of injury often builds up gradually, turning into hamstring tendonitis.
How to avoid hamstring injuries: Avoid forcing your legs into any stretches and you’ll find these injuries quite easy to avoid. If hamstrings are not your most flexible body part, apply added focus on contracting the front of your body (quads and lower abs) when you fold forward to let your hamstrings feel safe letting go. Don’t use your hands to pull your body deeper into forward folds. Those of you with a lot of mobility in your hamstrings need to be cautious and focus on engaging your outer hips, as it’s possible for you to overstretch and cause injury.
Shoulders: Yoga can cause shoulder injuries as a result of improper overuse. Poses like plank, chatarunga, cobra pose, and upward facing are common culprits. I’ve also seen shoulder injuries arise due to students not listening to their bodies’ signs of fatigue. Don’t push through chaturangas when your body is screaming for a modification or a rest.
How to avoid shoulder injuries: Avoid putting heavy weight on the joint by keeping the shoulders locked into the back on the poses listed above. Be sure to hug the elbows into the side body as you lower down through chatarungas and drop your knees down if this is hard to accomplish. Nail the elbows grazing into the ribs as you lower first - then try to lower down in one line with knees lifted. In your updog and cobra poses be sure to expand into the collar bones and externally rotate the shoulders and pull them down into the back pockets.
Wrists: Much like elbow injuries, wrist pain is a result of repetitive stress. This small joint is often already aggravated by too much computer usage. Those of you with weaker upper arms and forearms are at a higher risk because you won’t be able to press your palm firmly enough into your mat to relieve the weight placed on your wrist.
How to avoid wrist injuries: Supplement your yoga practice with some basic arm exercises designed to tone and strengthen. Use dumbbells or resistance bands when you visit the gym. The stronger your arms are, the less pressure you’ll place on your wrists. Alternatively, I recommend placing your knees on the ground to modify poses, like chaturanga, while you build wrist strength.
Lower back: Among the most frequent yoga injuries, lower back pain is often caused by rounding your spine in forward folds or downward dog. Rounding and overstretching are a recipe for injury and irritation, as it causes your spine to flex the opposite way it is supposed to.
How to avoid lower back injuries: Don’t shy away from bending your knees in forward folds; this allows your back to decompress and relax. Engage your lower belly in most poses - especially chair - as core strength contributes to a strong, healthy back. Keep a small bend in your knees throughout practice and remember to tuck your pelvis under your spine.
Knees: Knee injuries are often related to a lack of flexibility, especially in poses that target your tight hips. Other times, they’re the result of your knees falling out of alignment in poses like Warrior or triangle pose.
How to avoid knee injuries: When bending your knee in a pose like Warrior 2, always check that it is tracking over your middle toe. You never want it to cave inward because it adds unnecessary strain. When your knee is straight, avoid locking your knee joint. Additionally, avoid spending long periods of time in deep hip openers until you build flexibility there.
Neck: Any time you apply pressure to your neck - such as during a headstand - you’re compressing your neck. This can lead to pain in your cervical vertebrae. Your neck is one of the scariest places to harm, since it takes so long to heal properly.
How to avoid neck injuries: Never put pressure on your head in any kind of inversion - including when you prepare for full wheel. Don’t force yourself into poses that the rest of your body (shoulders, wrists, abs) isn’t prepared to support you in.
Given all the proven benefits of yoga, but also the many potential risks, what should you yogis do? My biggest advice to avoiding yoga injuries is a combination of gradually easing into each practice, noting when your body feels pain over sensation, and mixing yoga with other exercise forms to strengthen weak areas.
At Yoga Fever, it’s our mission to teach an anatomically-sound yoga practice that keeps your bodies safe and strong! If you ever start noticing pain or discomfort, let your yoga instructor know so we can help adjust you or modify your pose.