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Yoga can increase pain and worsen injuries, study finds

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Many people take up yoga as a complementary or alternative therapy for musculoskeletal disorders, but new research suggests that the injury rate is higher than previously thought.

The study, published in the Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies, found that yoga causes musculoskeletal pain in 10% of people and exacerbates 21% of existing injuries.

“While yoga can be beneficial for musculoskeletal pain, like any form of exercise, it can also result in musculoskeletal pain,” said lead researcher Associate Professor Evangelos Pappas from the University of Sydney’s Faculty of Health Sciences. He conducted the study with Professor Marc Campo from Mercy College, New York.

The research — the first prospective study to investigate injuries caused from recreational participation in yoga — included 354 participants from two suburban yoga studios.

The incidence rate of pain caused by yoga was 10.7%, which is comparable to the injury rate of all sports injuries combined among the physically active population.

People consider yoga to be a very safe activity but this injury rate is up to 10 times higher than has previously been reported, Associate Professor Pappas said.

“We also found that yoga can exacerbate existing pain, with 21% of existing injuries made worse by doing yoga, particularly pre-existing musculoskeletal pain in the upper limbs,” he explained.

“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 three months.”

The study also revealed that most ‘new’ yoga pain was in the upper extremities (shoulder, elbow, wrist, hand), which may be due to postures that put weight on the upper limbs.

However, it’s not all bad news — 74% of participants in the study reported that their existing pain was improved by yoga.

“These findings can be useful for clinicians and individuals to compare the risks of yoga to other exercise enabling them to make informed decisions about which types of activity are best,” Associate Professor Pappas said.

“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.”