“No one should ever be injured doing yoga. Like physical therapy and massage, yoga is supposed to be a healing practice.
““New York Times science journalist William Broad has scandalized the yoga world for much of the past year with his claim that yoga, while often beneficial to practitioners, can also seriously injure them. Many yogis have strongly disputed Broad’s claim, including the injury statistics that Broad cites to support it. They even accuse Broad of engaging in “sensationalism” by exaggerating the injury threat merely to sell more copies of his controversial book, The Science of Yoga. But Michaelle Edwards, a 40-year practicing yoga veteran with 25 years of yoga teaching and experience in massage therapy, biomechanics, and posture therapy, says that Broad is actually right. Author of YogAlign, Pain-free Yoga from Your Inner Core (2011), Edwards has been documenting – and treating — yoga injuries for years. She says that many of the traditional yoga postures currently being taught – everything from shoulder stands and headstands to the ubiquitous downward-facing dog and triangle poses – simply aren’t in synch with the way our bodies are “naturally” designed to move.”
Stewart Lawrence, Physician Heal Thyself: An Interview with Yoga’s Michaelle Edwards, Huffington Post, Feb.15, 2013
Yoga Injury Survey
Since yoga is not regulated there are no reliable statistics documenting the actual number of yoga injuries. Based on my own experience with injuries, teaching more than a hundred clients with injuries and also the written testimonials of almost 400 people who took the injury survey, it is possible that injuries are quite prevalent in the yoga world.
If you have been injured, please take the yoga injury survey to share your story. Help us all to create a baseline of information on how and why yoga injuries are happening. Results will be published soon.
Yoga Injuries of the Hip Joint
Michaelle Edwards contacted William Broad of the New York Times and author of The Science of Yoga, The Risks and Rewards to investigate the prevalence of hip surgeries in female yogis. He was skeptical but upon further investigation he said, “To my astonishment, top surgeons declared the problem to be real—so real that hundreds of women yogis were coming to their offices in debilitating pain and undergoing costly operations to mend or replace their hips.” Surgeon Bryan T. Kelly said that yoga postures were well known for throwing hips into extremes of motion and rotation. “If that’s done without an understanding of the mechanical limitations of the joint, it can mean trouble.”
Broad’s article on women’s hips and yoga in the New York Times has been read, appreciated and sometimes disputed by thousands of people.
Many yogis who have had hip replacements claim that yoga had nothing to do with their hip injuries. The fact is that yoga did not prevent them either. Many people believe or have been told their hip joint was formed in a way that predisposed them to hip replacements. There is a new study showing that in ballet dancers, it is extreme range of motion rather than hip joint structure, that leads to hip pathologies that may eventually require surgery such as thinning of articular cartilage, labral tears and osteoarthritis.
Similar to dancers, yogis also put their hips into extreme ranges of motion. This may explain why some yogis as well as dancers in their 50s and 60s are getting hip replacement surgeries after a few decades of practice. The website Dancerhips.com is dedicated to the discussion of hip surgeries including options and holistic alternatives for dancers and yogis.
Hip replacements as performed today began in the 1960’s to provide mobility for elderly people with hip deteriorations in their 70s and 80s. A UK hospital study revealed that hip replacements are generally performed on two women for every man. Interestingly, people under the age of 60 made up 8% of the total surgeries in 1993 but that amount increased to 23% by 2005. Was the rise in yoga popularity a possible factor?
Here is a compelling video clip of Diane Bruni, a seasoned ashtanga yoga teacher who needed hip joint surgery after years of poses that created laxity in her joints, and weakened her gluteal muscles:
Charlotte Bell, a certified Iyengar teacher and author of Mindful Yoga Mindful Life and Yoga for Meditators wrote an article for Elephant Journal in 2013 entitled Yogis, Be Careful with Your Joints. Over 100,000 people have read her article warning people to be careful with their joints and to avoid stretching ligament tissue needed for joint stabilization. In her own words, “I know a number of serious practitioners who are now in their 50s—including myself—who regret having overstretched our joints back in the day. All too many longtime practitioners now own artificial joints to replace the ones they overused.” Charlotte underwent hip replacement surgery in 2015.
Margaret Martin is a physiotherapist, certified strength and conditioning specialist and certified yoga teacher with over 30 years of experience. She warns that women are at risk for spinal fractures from doing poses with sustained spinal flexion in yin yoga practice.
Gaga doing Bikram yoga in high heels before her hip surgery
I call this the Perfect Storm Pose since it can cause so much damage to your joints in just one move. How? The repeated practice of this pose pulls the head forward and pushes the ball of the femur (upper leg bone) into the back of the acetabulum (hip socket) wearing away articular cartilage, damaging the labrum, compressing the hip joint with hundreds of pounds of pressure from the forward lean, reversing the natural nutation of the sacral platform, flattening the natural lumbar curve (lower back) while simultaneously over stretching the spine, sacral, leg, knee and foot ligaments needed for upright alignment.
Michaelle Edward’s Yoga Injury Story
Yoga Myths and Beliefs
Is there actual value to be gained by doing a yoga pose or do you hold a false belief about its benefits?
It is important to focus on the value of yoga poses according to our natural biomechanics as opposed to any beliefs you may have beentaught, such as “plow pose stimulates the thyroid.” Plow pose has caused strokes and been shown to cause spinal compression, impingement of vertebral arteries and overstretching of nerve tissue. There is no medical proof that practice of plow stimulates the thyroid.
We need to approach the practice of yoga asana from a global perspective. Our body is not made up of parts. Doing compartmentalized stretching of our body parts makes no anatomical sense. To gain value, we need to discard beliefs and only do poses that simulate how we are designed to move in real life function. With millions in the world practicing yoga today, we need to make sure all yoga poses are biomechanically safe and functional.
Leave The Yoga Plow In The Field
Many claims have been made to the supposed benefits of the plow pose.
The supposed benefits of the plow pose are listed below.
Calms the brain
The brain is not “calmer” from practicing plow pose and in fact, the flexion of the neck into a right angle might actually restrict blood flow through the vertebral artery to the brain leading to a stress response.
Stimulates the abdominal organs and the thyroid gland
It is more likely that the thyroid gland is lacking in blood flow caused by the neck flexion. It is much safer to use laughter and breathing to stimulate blood flow to the abdominal organs.
Stretches the shoulders and spine
Plow engages the spine in a C shape removing the natural lumbar and cervical curve and loosening ligaments needed to keep the neck and lumbar joints stable.
Helps relieve the symptoms of menopause
Plow pose for menopause symptoms is nothing more than a fantasy.
Reduces stress and fatigueSome may actually have more stress from the strain of practicing plow pose.
Therapeutic for backache, headache, infertility, insomnia, sinusitis
Backache:Creating a C shape in the spine with pressure loads from the plow body position will more likely give you a backache.
Headache:There is no evidence that plow pose can cure headaches. Blood flow may be constricted because of neck flexion position compressing arteries supplying the brain with blood.
Infertility:Pregnancy is not one of the benefits.
Insomnia:Again there is no scientific evidence that you will sleep better by practicing plow.
Sinusitis:Face massage, diet changes, salt-water swimming and/or seeing a physician might be safer.
There is no reliable research that proves these benefits and much of these claims are belief systems and hearsay seriously lacking in any scientific proof.
The “Plow Pose” creates extreme flexion of the neck taking away the natural protection of each interlocking vertebra and putting pressure loads on bone and connective tissue that can cause compression fractures and/or herniation of the discs along the neck as well as along the entire spine.
The vertebral structures in the cervical region are much smaller than the lumbar region; not designed to support the weight of the lower body. Repeated practice of the plow can cause the natural cervical curve to reverse and become flat; transferring heavy loads to the anterior surfaces of the vertebrae. Bone spurs may occur from the excess pressure and the disc may rupture or tear or pressing on spinal cervical nerves.
Nerve tissue should not be stretched more than about 10 % and plow pose pulls the nerves at the root.
If you are doing yoga to get the buffed out yoga butt, forget the plow pose. Plow can create a flat neck, which makes a flat butt.
These spinal curves in the neck and lower back are part of the body’s natural suspension system to protect our joint structures and contribute to smooth fluid movements. Plow forces the spine to a C shape; the bane of aging.
Leave the yoga plow in the field.
Study on musculoskeletal injuries in yogis who practice ashtanga vinyasa showed that 62% reported having had at least one injury lasting longer than one month and some practitioners reported more than one injury.