Friday, September 20, 2013

Yoga and Working With Injuries

Photo Credit: FoxTongue on Flickr

CC BY 2.0

I have had a few injuries from practicing yoga poses.  That's not really too surprising since I've been doing yoga for 20 years.

My injuries have been mostly mild, but a couple times more severe.   They've included pulled hamstring muscles, torn cartilage around the ribs, and an occasional glitchy shoulder or neck.  

I'm sure you're all aware that with any physical activity comes some risk of injury or at least of discomfort.

In general, injuries might happen because of a moment of inattention to what we're doing, or pushing ourselves just a little too fast or too far, or an injury might develop slowly over a period of time from habitually using a part of the body in a mis-aligned, uninformed way.

If we are avid, dedicated yoga practitioners, or sometimes even if we're not, many of us will injure ourselves at some point during our yoga practice, either in class or at home.  Most of the time these injuries will be minor, and won't slow us down for too long, but occasionally they may be more severe and take longer to heal.

But the risk of injury shouldn't stop us from being active!   We know that the benefits of physical activity on our health and well-being far outweigh the risks.

How would an injury affect your yoga practice, whether the injury was yoga-related or not?   Should you stop practicing, or stop coming to class?

It depends in part on how severe the injury is and where it is, and how much knowledge you have of how to work with your own body.  Common sense goes a long way.

Of course immediately after an acute injury, do follow the RICE recommendations (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation).  Get advice from your health care giver as needed.   But then if the injury is fairly mild, and if you're motivated to do so, you might cautiously explore what you can comfortably do with that area.

If the injury is minor, such as a mild muscle strain or pull, or a slightly sore shoulder, hip, or back, continuing with your yoga class and/or your home practice will probably help you heal more quickly IF YOU WORK INTELLIGENTLY with your injury.   Talk with your teacher about your concerns and s/he may be able to suggest modifications to help you in your practice while your injury heals. Iyengar Yoga teachers are trained to help people with mild physical issues, including minor injuries.

Back off of the actions that make your injury feel worse.  If you have a hamstring attachment injury (such as I'm working with now), back off of the forward bends.  Don't stop forward bends, just don't do them as deeply.  If your shoulder is damaged, don't stretch the shoulder as intensely.   Maybe avoid poses that put a lot of weight in your shoulder.   Work cautiously to explore when the pain starts, and what positions make your injury feel better.    Continue to communicate with your health care professional or physical therapist as you need to.  Continue to communicate with your yoga teacher also.

If you have a major injury, of course that will preclude you from coming to class until there's enough healing to feel reasonably comfortable and to avoid re-injuring yourself.   But say you've broken your leg (such as from skiing, and hopefully not from some weird yoga mishap!).   You can still stretch your other leg, and your arms and back.  You can still probably do some careful twists.   You can work to keep the rest of your body strong and mobile while you let your leg recover. 

For the avid yoga practitioner, working one-on-one with your teacher may be a good way to go for awhile, so you can learn techniques to help work more intelligently with your injury.

Even though an injury is never wished for, we can often use it as an opportunity to learn more about ourselves and how our bodies work.  I know now what has been contributing to my hamstring problems and how to work with them.  I know how to avoid hurting my ribs and how to work with glitchy shoulders and neck.  I feel more confident in my yoga poses because of this knowledge, although it took some mishaps along the way to learn it. 

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