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Yoga injuries on the rise in women

Michelle Carlson, M.D. is an orthopedic surgeon at the Hospital for Special Surgery. She specializes in injuries of the hand and upper extremities.

Yoga until you hurt?

Over the past few years at Hospital for Special Surgery, I’ve seen an increase in patients with hand or wrist pain brought on by yoga or aggravated by the practice. I recall one day last year when four women in a row came to see me with hand injuries they sustained while doing yoga. Four women in one day! If you practice yoga, here’s how to avoid common yoga injuries.

Woman with yoga injury

Don't push through the yoga pain

While yoga can offer excellent health benefits for the body and mind, many of the poses can strain the hand and wrist, so people need to listen to their bodies if they begin to feel pain. In other sports like tennis, people are aware of potential injury and when they feel pain, for instance in their elbow, they back off to avoid "tennis elbow." In contrast, yoga enthusiasts tend to push through the discomfort because they think yoga is good for them and often think that pain in other parts of the body represents a good stretch. However, pain at the hand and wrist can be a sign of impending injury and should be a warning sign to stop.

Yoga may worsen existing conditions

Certain positions can aggravate minor hand problems that were not symptomatic before. I have seen patients with mild arthritis, mild carpal tunnel syndrome and even ganglion cysts that didn't bother them until they started doing yoga. Carpal tunnel syndrome occurs when the median nerve, which runs from the forearm into the hand, becomes pressed or squeezed at the wrist. When conservative treatments fail, people may need surgery.

Putting on the yoga pressure

Many people don't realize how much pressure yoga puts on their hands. It can be like walking on your hands, and we're not meant to do that. The most common yoga injury I see is tendonitis, the painful inflammation of a tendon in the wrist. Most of the time patients get better with rest, placing the wrist in a splint to immobilize it and sometimes having cortisone injections, but infrequently they need surgery.

How to avoid yoga injuries

While most of my patients with yoga injuries are women in their 30s to 60s, anyone who doesn't engage in good practices can get hurt. The following practices can help people avoid injury and derive the health benefits yoga is meant to provide:

1Keep your wrist straight

It's okay to flex or extend the wrist, but ideally you want to keep it in line with the arm and not turn it to the right or left. People get into trouble, especially when they try to turn their hands in, because that causes more stress across the wrist.

2Roll up a towel

If you feel discomfort, take a rolled-up towel and put it under your palms, so it causes less strain on your wrist when doing positions such as Downward Dog.

3Talk to your doctor

If you have any medical injuries or conditions, check with your doctor before beginning yoga.

4Take it slow

Start slowly and learn the basics. Never push yourself to the point of pain while stretching or assuming a position. Be sure you always warm up thoroughly before a yoga session.

5Listen to your body

Stop at the first sign of discomfort. If you are extremely fatigued, take a break. Know your limits. Do not try yoga poses beyond your experience or comfort level.

6Take classes from a reputable center or instructor

Make sure the yoga studio or class has a good reputation and qualified instructors. Ask about their experience and credentials. Also, ask questions if you're not sure how to perform a pose; good instructors will be happy to help you make the most of your yoga sessions.

More on yoga injuries

Bad news / good news of yoga injuries

Yoga injuries will affect most that do yoga at some stage. Watch this video for tips on identifying injuries before they become acute and actions to take that may remedy them.

More on yoga for health and fitness

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