Yoga is a calming, meditative practice that comes with a long list of benefits, including increased flexibility, core strength and even improved mental health in some cases.
However, as with most things in life, those benefits are accompanied by a potential risk for danger. According to a new study published in the Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies, yoga can cause musculoskeletal pain after prolonged practice, particularly in the upper limbs.
The University of Sydney conducted a year-long survey on practicing yogis, following 350 people who took yoga classes multiple times a week. The average age of the participants was 45 years old, and the majority of them were women. All of the participants were given a questionnaire to complete at the onset of the study and again at the end.
According to the results, more than 10 percent of the people involved reported experiencing musculoskeletal pain, especially in the arms. Moreover, 21 percent of people who had pre-existing injuries in this area said that yoga exacerbated the pain, causing further inflammation. This is troubling news, as yoga is often hailed as a healing practice. But such claims should be taken with a grain of salt, and any physical activity should be discussed with a medical professional prior to starting.
“Our study found that the incidence of pain caused by yoga is more than 10 percent per year, which is comparable to the rate of all sports injuries combined among the physically active population,” associate professor and lead study researcher Evangelos Pappas told reporters.
Pappas is also a certified yoga instructor and says that these findings do make sense, according to his knowledge of the practice.
“In yoga you actually have a lot of these inversions, the downward dogs, that put lots of weight on the upper extremities,” Pappas said. Since the upper limbs were not designed to support that much weight, it could cause a strain on the muscles and joints that are used in these types of poses. As most of the “new pain” (31 percent) occurred in the wrists, shoulders, and elbows, this is again supportive of the potential risk of these poses. However, on the other hand, 74 percent of the respondents reported an improvement in lower back and neck pain as a result of doing yoga for one year.
While it is true and proven that yoga can help a person’s body in many ways, it is still a physical activity and must be approached with the knowledge that there is potential risk for injury as a result. It is important to weigh all of the options and decide which route of exercise might be most beneficial. Yoga can help to reduce blood pressure and lessen the symptoms of depression, so it is definitely not without its perks.
However, as Pappas put it, “yoga may be a bit more dangerous than previously thought,” so being aware of the pressure placed on the wrists and shoulders is the first step in getting the most out of the practice.