The Most Common Yoga Injuries
Yoga is frequently used as a way to stay in shape, increase flexibility, and prevent injuries. If you’re not taking the right precautionary steps, however, it can cause just as many problems as it fixes. It’s been shown that yoga causes muscle pain in up to 10 percent of people – which, many times, is pain that could have been avoided.
The majority of yoga injuries typically happen in six common places: the hip, shoulders, knees, wrists, hamstrings, and back. Read on to learn how to stay as safe as possible while practicing yoga.
Hip pain after yoga
Hip pain and injuries are a huge topic (huge enough that I’ve written an entire book about it! (Tight Hip, Twisted Core: The Key To Unresolved Pain - get a free copy of the first chapter here). Feeling hip pain after yoga (or even hip pain during yoga) is extremely common. However, as you may have guessed, experiencing hip pain or sore hips after yoga should not be the “norm” and can eventually lead to injury. There are a wide variety of reasons why people injure their hips doing yoga – here are some of the most common ones.
What causes hip injuries during yoga?
Hundreds of yoga exercises involve unnatural hip movements. Exercises that have you open your hips or do significant hip rotation can end up causing too much mobility in the hip, which can set the stage for hip arthritis and labrum tears..
One of yoga’s most common poses – the triangle pose – is a perfect example of an exercise that puts strain on the hip. In triangle pose your front leg is in a very unnatural position that causes a shift of the ball in the socket in the hip joint. These types of hip-opening poses also cause the iliacus and the psoas (two key hip muscles) to tighten because the hip, which is supposed to be strong and stable, is outside of its safety zone. This pose, as well as plenty of others, can cause strain in the hip muscles when performed incorrectly to pushed too far. Initially, it may result in feeling some hip soreness after yoga, but has the longer-term potential for creating instability in the hip which may lead to more significant hip injuries such as labral tears over time.
How to avoid hip injury
Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to avoid hip injury by making sure you don’t go overboard with risky exercises! If you’re starting to feel some hip pain, try decreasing your stance while pushing down and in with your feet, focusing more on stability and breathing versus a deep pose. This will take a lot of the strain off of your hip, allowing you to complete the exercise without damaging your body.
And, if you are having hip pain with a particular pose, try finding alternative poses and exercises for a while to ease the tension and stress on your hip. There can always be too much of a good thing – know your body and decide when it’s right to ease up. Just like anything, yoga can be an obsession. All activities should be done in moderation. Variety, variety, variety.
Shoulder injury during yoga
Shoulder pain is a force to be reckoned with, and it’s very common even for those who don’t do yoga! About 67% of people will develop shoulder pain at some point during their lives – daily wear and tear due to poor posture is usually the most common cause. Yoga can cause or exacerbate your shoulder pain, but it doesn’t have to. Knowing how to manage shoulder pain during yoga is key to a healthy routine.
What causes shoulder injuries during yoga?
Many yoga poses involve extending your arms above (or behind) your head or back. Everything from basic overhead stretching like in chair pose to something like the child’s pose can push your shoulders to the limit, pinching your rotator cuff and bicep tendon to cause pain.
The more extreme your arm positions are, the more likely it is that you’re at risk for causing shoulder pain. If you’re experiencing issues, though, there are plenty of ways to mitigate shoulder pain in your yoga routine.
How to avoid yoga shoulder injury
The simplest way to avoid shoulder pain and injury during yoga is to reduce your range of motion with your arms. You don’t have to completely stop doing the poses you love, but simply limiting the angle you extend your arms can help alleviate a lot of pain. Try experimenting until you find a reduced angle that your arms feel comfortable at, and do the yoga pose in that fashion until your shoulders are feeling better.
Don’t forget to make sure your pecs are as open as possible, as this helps take some of the strain off of the bones and tendons in your shoulders, and gives you a wider range of motion. Opening up your chest posture can be an excellent way to help reduce yoga-induced shoulder pain.
Knee pain & yoga
Yoga is often used as a way to prevent knee injuries and knee pain – however, certain poses can actually end up making your knee situation worse. Before you do yoga poses that have the potential to put a lot of strain on your knee, making sure you know how to take the right steps to avoid injury.
What causes knee injuries during yoga?
When we’re talking about knee injuries and pain due to yoga, the main culprit is usually the meniscus. Deep knee bends, malasana squats, and cross-legged poses can rotate the tibia on the femur, twisting the meniscus and leading to irritation or tears. This doesn’t mean these are inherently bad or dangerous poses, though – they’re just some of the most common catalysts for knee injury in yoga.
Yoga poses to avoid knee injury
If you have known problems with your knee and meniscus, try to avoid poses that put extra stress on your knee. Many people have meniscus tears without even knowing it (for some, it can just be a light to moderate pain in the knee), and certain yoga poses could unintentionally make that problem worse.
To alleviate strain on your knee during some of the exercises mentioned above, putting a roll between your knee and calf can help to spread out some of the tension. If you’re doing a deep malasana squat, you can sit on a block instead of going all the way down to the ground. Limiting the amount of rotation of the knee, not going to the end of your range of motion, will keep your meniscus happy. These tactics allow you to continue doing the yoga poses you love, while also helping to ensure the safety of your knees.
Prevent wrist injuries from yoga
Wrist injuries are a lot more common than you might think – they’re some of the most common injuries in yoga, and are easy to develop even if you don’t have any prior issues. The bottom line? Most of us don’t have flexible wrists, and many yoga poses involve bending our wrists past a natural angle.
What causes wrist injuries during yoga?
Extended wrist angles – and bearing a lot of weight on your wrists – is extremely common in yoga, and can cause a lot of pain and injury. The extent to which this affects you largely depends on how naturally flexible and durable your wrists are, but almost everyone is at risk. Any pose which involves your wrists being bent or bearing weight (a chaturanga, for example) can cause wrist pain.
Yoga tips for avoiding wrist injury
To alleviate wrist pain in your yoga poses, try putting a towel roll under your hands and wrists as you do your normal poses. This will help to ease some of the tension and extreme angles your wrists would have to endure otherwise. There are also special wedge tools that allow you to do yoga without putting a lot of weight or pressure on your wrists.
Hamstring yoga injury prevention
More often than not, your hamstrings are playing a key part in your yoga poses. Every time you go to touch your toes you are stretching them, every time you stand up from touching your toes, you use them. One of the advantages of yoga is that it allows you to stretch and work your hamstrings on a consistent basis – however, if practiced in excess, this can lead to painful hamstring injuries.
What causes hamstring injuries during yoga?
A large portion of yoga poses are using your hamstring in one way or another. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but you should be able to feel whether a certain pose is putting a lot of strain on your hamstring. Overall becoming more and more flexible puts the hips in a compromised position, making the hip flexors (iliacus and psoas), want to contract to stabilize the now too flexible hip joint. These hip flexors play tug of war with the hamstring and make it more susceptible to strain.
How to avoid yoga hamstring injury
Hamstring strains are hard to treat, and they can last for a long time. The best way to treat one is to prevent it happening in the first place; make sure you don’t overdo it on poses that are putting a lot of tension or pressure on your hamstring, and know your limits! Making sure your hip flexors are relaxed, not just stretched but actually relaxed, will, in turn, give your hamstrings more room to be mobile and can prevent hamstring tears and strains.
Yoga for back pain or injuries
Yoga is a common recommendation for individuals suffering from chronic low back pain with published research to back its positive effects. It is important to note that most back pain is caused by a problem elsewhere, with tight hip flexors and hamstrings usually being the culprits. This then causes the muscles of the lower back to compensate, for example, the quadratus lumborum is quite often involved in chronic back pain. Yoga can be useful to ease tight back muscles but it is important to understand that stretching them may make matters worse if the root of the back pain problem is not addressed.
What causes back pain in yoga?
Nearly 80% of adults will experience low back pain at one point in their lives, there are any one of a number of causes, ranging from sitting too much, improper posture, muscle imbalances to injuries from sports, falls and car accidents. In yoga, one tends to continue to become more and more flexible which leads to too much mobility. The body's way to balance that hypermobility is to create muscle tightness and contraction. Many patterns of muscle tightness evolve from being too flexible. This is another major topic in my book. Similarly, with many poses that hold a posture at the end range of motion, like a backward bend, for example, there is compression of the joints and discs in the spine. At first, yoga can help get you mobile, but going too far tends to pinch these areas, sometimes even pinching nerves. Compensating for too much flexibility or repetitive pinching of the spine at the end range of its motion can ultimately lead people to seek treatments like prescription pain medications, cortisone shots, and even surgery in advanced cases.
How to avoid back pain in yoga
Prevention is obviously the best answer. The best way to prevent a back injury in yoga is through more focus on strength and less on going deeper into poses. This doesn't mean starting a deadlifting program, this can be as simple as maintaining good posture throughout your day, on a run, or in your yoga pose. Making sure your head is pulled back, ears in line with shoulders and your hips are in a neutral position can ensure that your core, which includes the muscles of your back, are doing their job. Basically, if you're reading this slumped over your desk or your phone, you're weak and prone to a back injury! Balance, or equanimity, is a key teaching in yoga and it applies here too. Keeping your body just as stable as it is mobile and avoiding extreme ranges of motion are key to keeping you on your mat and not injured.
Yoga injuries can be serious, and the subject is a complex one – I’ve actually written an entire book about the subject of the hip area in particular because hip openers are creating an ocean full of people that are too mobile in their hips and end up with tight hip flexors. I know, it seems weird, but it’s true. Tight hip flexors become the cause that ends up wreaking havoc on the rest of the body.
If you’re interested in learning more check out the book and the Hip Hook; it’s a product I invented specifically to help ease lingering pain because of a tight iliacus and psoas. A best friend for every yogi.
Frequently asked questions about yoga injuries
What are the most common yoga injuries?
The most common yoga injuries typically happen in six different areas of the body: the hip, shoulders, knees, wrists, hamstrings, and lower back.
Why do my hips and back hurt after yoga?
If you are experiencing more pain or tightness after doing some yoga poses, it may be because you are working into too large of a range of motion in your poses. While it may feel like you are getting a nice stretch by going as deep into a yoga pose as possible, your hip flexors and other hip or lower back muscles could actually be holding tension to create stability around your hips, pelvis, and lower back.
Can yoga injure you?
Generally speaking, any form of exercise or daily activity that you do can cause an injury to occur – not just yoga. However, by keeping your body strong and paying closer attention to proper form and technique as you move into and out of different yoga poses, you may reduce the likelihood of pain and injury.
How can I prevent injuries during yoga?
To prevent injuries during yoga, it is important to work within a range of motion that you can actively control. For many yogis (especially beginners), that means shortening your stance during yoga poses and making sure that your muscles are engaged to support you in that position. If you try to go too far into a yoga pose, this can cause over-stretching your muscles, tendons, ligaments, and joints past what they are currently capable of, thereby increasing the risk of pain, tightness, or injury.