A recent study from the University of Sydney suggests that practicing yoga isn’t as safe as many experts previously believed.
In the first prospective study on the topic, the researchers found that participation in recreational yoga caused musculoskeletal pain in 10% of people and exacerbated 21% of pre-existing injuries. Lead researcher Evangelos Pappas says that brings the activity in line with injuries from all other sports, but it’s problematic since many people rely on yoga to relieve musculoskeletal pain.
“While yoga can be beneficial for musculoskeletal pain, like any form of exercise, it can also result in musculoskeletal pain,” he said. “Our study found that incidence of pain caused by yoga is more than 10 per cent per year, which is comparable to the injury rate of all sports injuries combined among the physically active population.”
Higher injury rate
The findings of the study come as somewhat of a surprise to experts who believed that the activity was relatively low-risk. However, Pappas points out that the injury rate is up to 10 times higher than previously reported, and the risk of aggravating pre-existing injuries was notable.
“In terms of severity, more than one-third of cases of pain caused by yoga were serious enough to prevent yoga participation and lasted more than 3 months,” he said.
Most of these injuries tended to be located in the upper extremities, such as in the shoulders, elbows, wrists, and hands. The researchers say this is likely because many yoga positions, such as the popular downward dog pose, puts weight on the upper limbs.
Practicing yoga safely
While the risk of exacerbating an injury shouldn’t be discounted, the researchers say that safely practicing yoga can actually improve musculoskeletal pain. Seventy-four percent of participants in the team’s study reported lessened pain after trying yoga. Pappas says that these results may help clinicians, teachers, and consumers make informed decisions about whether yoga is right for them.
“Yoga participants are encouraged to discuss the risks of injury and any pre-existing pain, especially in the upper limbs, with yoga teachers and physiotherapists to explore posture modifications that may result in safer practice,” he said.
The full study has been published in the Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies.