Friday 21 June heralds in this year’s International Yoga Day. Well-loved by millions around the globe, this ancient holistic practice can enhance physical, mental, emotional and spiritual well-being and balance.
However, like all bodily activities, it can be accompanied by risk if not performed correctly. Let’s take a look at six poses that can cause injury, why they may occur, and how to avoid them so your patients can enjoy the incredible benefits of yoga.
1. Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana)
Downward facing dog is an iconic yogic pose. With feet and hands on the ground, the body initially forms a plank which is then raised. The knees become positioned below the hips, the hands below the shoulders, and the bottom is raised until a triangle posture is achieved. While this may look simple, downward facing dog can strain joints if performed incorrectly or too enthusiastically (not uncommon in excited beginners)!
Lower back pain
Experts, like Chiropractor Dr. Michael Remy, note that downward facing dog is one of the most common yoga poses that can cause injury. The substantial stretching of the lower back’s soft tissues and bending of the lumbosacral spine may lead to strain.
Additionally, rounding over of the back or forcing less than pliable heels to the ground adds stress to the lower limbs. Ill placed arms can overtax shoulder, elbow and wrist joints. This can lead to muscle strain, tear and joint damage.
Ways to improve downward facing dog
- Maintain a neutral spine; avoid over or under arching
- Lift your heels from the mat and try a soft bend at your knees
- Spread your fingers and toes comfortably to ensure a secure foundation
- Establish strong arms by drawing the upper limb bones into their sockets and bringing the shoulder blades down the back
2. Full Wheel (Chakrasana)
Ok, so there’s no getting around this: Chakrasana is a serious pose! Any posture that asks you to mimic an inside out wheel — and then hold it — is only for yoga practitioners that mean business. It takes practice and progression and, even then, can risk injury.
When rising from the floor into this pose, pressure is placed on the neck. This can lead to exacerbation of preexisting cervical problems or trigger a new condition.
Full wheel pose bends the spine backwards, stretching the vertebral column farther than occurs in the normal course of our often sedentary days. If not properly warmed up, if moving faster than can be carefully controlled, or where sufficient core strength isn’t yet present, injuries can occur. Simply put, the hyperextension of the spine that is involved in this pose can be harmful.
Warning: In those with osteopenia (low bone density) and osteoporosis (where the bones become brittle and prone to fracture), there is a higher chance of fracture. These two medical issues should raise a red flag: strong extension exercises and postures like full wheel pose ought to be avoided.
Hyperextension of the wrists, when the back sides of the hands are pushed towards the back sides of the forearms, can tear or strain muscles and ligaments. Warming up correctly and working slowly towards this pose over multiple practice sessions will lower your risk of injury.
3. Camel Pose (Ustrasana)
Ustrasana is another posture that places the spine into hyperextension. Placing the body’s weight through the shins and feet, the spine is bent backward so the stomach is stretched, the head brought back over the feet and the hands reach behind to connect with the soles.
As with all hyperextension postures, the strain on the spine can be significant. This has the potential to cause facet joint strain, bruised nerves, stretched joints, and disc injury. To lessen the risk, build up to this posture over time so you have both the strength and the muscular coordination to achieve it safely. Warm up well. Listen to your body. Follow the advice of a trained instructor.
While a yoga mat is a wonderful aid, they aren’t designed to offer copious comfort. When supporting yourself through knees on the ground in camel pose, the force through your two lower limbs needs to be considered. For those with pre-existing problems like osteoarthritis or bursitis this pose may place too much strain through the knees, causing aggravation of pain and dysfunction.
As with other postures, take your time to find a comfortable position and move into this pose slowly and with control.
4. Four-Limbed Staff Pose (Chaturanga Dandasana)
Chaturanga Dandasana is one of the sequential poses used within the adored Sun Salutation sequence. The spine is pressed to rest on extended wrists and toes, with the ‘staff’ formed by a straight, planking body.
Sounds easy enough?
For those with already present conditions like carpal tunnel syndrome or repetitive strain injuries, this posture can pose some problems. Additionally, the tummy can dip down, adding pressure through the spine.
It requires strong arms, back and legs, plus control and coordination. Fatigue can lead to muscle strains so start slowly and avoid progressing faster than you are biologically able.
5. Warrior Pose (Virabhadrasana)
Ready to discover how to protect your knees for another iconic yoga pose? Virabhadrasana centers on a lunge posture. While the arms move depending on the version of warrior pose, the knees are our concern.
As with any lunge, allowing your foot to pass over your knee increases the risk of knee injury. A full flex adds pressure to the knee’s meniscus and may increase the pain from a current tear or lead to injury. If you still love the idea of enjoying Warrior pose, ensure your knee remains over but not past your foot. Also, try a higher position with a gentle knee angle. There is no need to over flex.
6. Forward Bends (Uttanasana or Paschimottanasana)
Yoga comes with a range of forward bends, meaning it is entirely possible to find the right versions for yourself and your body’s ability.
Standing forward bend (Uttanasana) traditionally requires straight legs and knees, with the hips bent forward allowing the torso to rest down onto the thighs. For those with tight hamstrings, forcing this posture might result in an unhelpful snap. Pulled muscles can occur from pushing yourself too hard.
Seated forward bend (Paschimottanasana), as the name suggests, allows you to take this posture to the floor. With legs out in front, knees straight, and lower limbs strengthened along the ground, the upper body is moved towards the toes while maintaining a neutral spine. As with Uttanasana, moving too far, too quickly or past your body’s capacity can result in muscle fibers that simply cannot cope with the overextension.
Slow down, stretch within your limits and gradually you will be able to safely progress.
Some further advice on the safe practice of Yoga…
These three simple tips will help you to avoid unwanted injury and enjoy the many benefits this ancient practice has to share…
- Start with beginner moves and build up as you are able to and with caution.
- Listen to your body (always)!
- Move into and out of poses with slow, controlled and fluid transitions.
And if injury strikes…
Sometimes, even with our best intentions, injury can occur. These three approaches will help you to recover faster.
1. Iyengar yoga
Ironically, yoga can help with yoga-related injuries. The study, Effectiveness of Iyengar yoga in treating spinal (back and neck) pain: A systematic review, found that:
Overall six studies with 570 patients showed that Iyengar yoga is an effective means for both back and neck pain in comparison to control groups.
2. RICE method
Rest, ice, compression, and elevation (RICE) is the well-accepted method for treating an acute injury.
3. Menthol and camphor: Natural pain relief creams
Menthol and camphor are superstars of the natural pain relief world.
Menthol in a natural mint that confers benefits in the management of chronic and nerve pain. Additional research published in the International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy has proven that topical menthol-based analgesic decreased perceived discomfort.
Camphor is a traditional remedy used to ease pain, inflammation and irritation. With significant anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, it is an established safe and therapeutic intervention.
With the right approaches and gentle progression, the regular practice of yoga can boost your physical, mental, emotional and spiritual wellbeing. Take care, stay safely within the capabilities of your body and you’ll be able to enjoy the incredible benefits of yoga, without the risk of injury.