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Which Are the Most Common Yoga Injuries and How to Prevent Them?

by Amanda Dee Smith

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After many years of teaching yoga, I found out that these are the 4 most common injuries related to bad habits on the mat.

See why they happen and what you can do to avoid them!

 

Hamstring tears

bending common yoga injury

Very flexible people are drawn to yoga because it’s easy for them to do more complicated poses and, of course, it always feels great to be good at something. Who doesn´t enjoy that feeling?

But these are the people who tend to injure themselves the most. Flexibility often comes with some instability. So, a flexible student with insufficient core support bends forward from the hip, without lifting the hip points, using the lower abdomen for support and eccentrically contracting the top of the hamstring.

The result is a huge strain to the top of the hamstring tendon, which could result in a tear that takes months, if not years to repair and can be very painful.


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Herniated Disk/ SI joint instability

back yoga injuries

Many doctors recommend yoga to their patients to heal back problems. Most students have a hernia in the L4/L5 area and have extremely tight hamstrings from sitting for long periods of the day at a desk.

In some yoga classes that I ‘ve observed, the teachers have them in a forward bend, legs straight and rounding the lower spine, putting pressure on this vulnerable weak area with no support of the core. This is a huge no-no for people with a herniated disk.

Also, this rounding of the spine starts to stretch the SI joint. The SI joint is where the sacrum connects to the pelvis. It’s supported by strong ligaments and it’s built for stability. There are no muscles that cross this area, so, it can’t be healed by stabilizing the muscles after injury.

The joint should have a tiny bit of movement, but hardly any at all. Due to this kind of forward bending, the ligaments can over-stretch and the result is an extreme pain in the lower back.

 

Torn rotator cuffs, bicep tendon tear and impingement in the shoulder

rotator cuff yoga injury

The shoulder is called the shoulder complex for a reason: it is complicated. Yet, often times, we ask our students to jump back into Chaturanga over and over during class, without making sure they have the correct alignment.

When the elbows bend and the shoulders go below them, the shoulders move into a position called protraction. The shoulder blades move around the sides of the spine and they also hike up around the ears compressing the neck.

This position not only creates neck pain, but it also puts the shoulder in a very unstable position. This adds pressure on the bicep tendon at the front of the shoulder, resulting in fraying (partial tear) and sometimes complete tears.

We also ask students to take a bind around their leg in poses such as Parsvakonasana; the enthusiastic student might want to bind, but without a good yoga teacher to advise them well, they lean forward, sticking their bottom back and putting a strain on the semitendinosus and semimembranosus (inner hamstring).

Not only can this result in a hamstring tear, but also, if the shoulder pushes forward into the bicep tendon, the poor little rotator cuff in the back could snap. This is a very painful injury that can happen in just a second.

Cervix and neck injuries due to shoulder-stand and headstand poses

headstand risks

These injuries are the most dangerous to me since you can die from doing these poses incorrectly! Yet, I see it again and again in classes; students jumping on their heads at the wall, with no shoulder blade support.

If you can’t lift up using your core without jumping, you’re not ready for this pose. The shoulder blades need to be retracted (together on the back) using the rhomboids, mid and lower trapezes muscles to stabilize your body. The neck spine also needs to be extended in its neutral position, plus the arms must press down for the weight not to fall on the head. In addition, the neck should be strong enough to support the whole weight of the body.

The same applies to the shoulder stand pose. This, I would say is the most dangerous pose practiced in yoga if you don’t pay attention to your alignment. The neck is placed in the flexion position (rounded position, chin to chest); thus, the teacher must know how to teach the students to put the weight in the shoulders and the top of the arms, keeping the weight out of the neck. Otherwise, as you can imagine, a lot of complications could arise.


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Conclusion

As instructors, it’s our responsibility to look after our students and teach them to take care of their bodies well. This should be of utmost importance and, once they understand this, we can layer on all the other many benefits that yoga has to offer.

We’re no help to our students if we cause more harm than healing. And if you’re a student, it’s very important that you educate yourself well and know your teacher’s background before you put all your trust in his/her hands.

Let’s work together to raise the bar of yoga as a healing therapy!
 

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