GREENWICH, Conn. -- For many people, yoga is a gentle way to increase balance, strength, and flexibility while relieving everyday stress. However, as with any form of exercise, if practiced incorrectly, there is the risk of muscle strains, torn ligaments, or more serious injuries.
Common yoga injuries include repetitive strain and overstretching of the neck, shoulders, spine, legs and knees. For instance, Warrior I, Warrior II and High Crescent poses can strain the ACL in the knee, if the knee isn’t kept in-line with the ankle. Tree poses carries a similar risk to the knee if the foot is pressing directly on the side of the knee, rather than on the thigh or shin. Hand and wrist injuries are also commonplace.
Dr. David H. Wei, a hand, wrist and elbow specialist practicing at the Greenwich and Stamford offices of Orthopaedic & Neurosurgery Specialists, notes that positions such as downward facing dog and plank, which require a certain amount of wrist extension, put direct pressure on the palms of the hands. This can cause pain and aggravate wrist conditions like carpal tunnel syndrome.
“When moving through these types of positions, it is important to press down on the mat evenly throughout the entire surface of your hands to decrease the weight or pressure on any one point,” said Dr. Wei. It’s also important to externally rotate your shoulders so that your elbow creases face forward, which allows weight to be more evenly distributed between the fingers on your hand. This has the added benefit of strengthening your external rotator muscles in your shoulder. If you do experience wrist pain, another option is to modify the position by leaning on the forearms in what is known as dolphin pose.
Dr. Wei advises individuals to let the instructor know of any medical issues or injuries before practicing yoga to learn modifications that take any conditions into consideration. Most importantly, he says, is to leave your ego at the door. "All too often people get injured because they go beyond the point of what is safe or comfortable for them just to keep up with others in the class," he said. “It’s more important to listen to your own body. If you feel pain, stop, modify or skip the pose altogether.”