Pain and injury in Yoga class

By - Gandhar Mandlik (Rishi Dharmachandra) Gandhar is Director at Yogapoint, Yoga Vidya Gurukul, he has been practicing and teaching yoga since last 10 years. He has been initiated in to Rishi Sannayasa (higher spiritual tradition) by his Guru Swami Niranjananda Saraswati.


Many times, students find themselves in trouble in the yoga class because of pain and injury which is the result of yoga practice. So many students have left yoga practice because of injuries and physical problems; I personally have met hundreds of yoga students who told me that they had developed some kind of injury while doing yoga. Yoga practice should not result in such conditions as yoga means more gentle, kind and considerate approach to yourself and others. But then we are doing something wrong which is causing this undesirable physical problem.

Let us first see what different types of problems are possible as per the medical classification. Overuse, injury or strain & sprain are some important types of problems that a yoga practitioner can encounter.

Overuse: is caused by using a muscle too much, too often, also chronic tension in muscles causes overuse, sometimes it is known as Repetitive strain injury (RSI) (also known as repetitive stress injury), repetitive motion injuries are caused by for example, by reading or doing tasks for extended periods of time while looking down. As far as yoga is concerned, many times students want to achieve better positions immediately as they are looking at the ideal posture, which results in too much use of particular muscles, also overlooking discomfort and pain while doing asanas can result in overuse. Prolonged overstretching in asanas going beyond the limits can cause overuse of various joints. Also students like particular asanas and keep stressing their bodies while doing those asanas obsessively which results in overuse of particular muscles and joints. Common joints affected are lower back, knees, wrists, neck et al.

Injury - Traumatic injury, a body wound or shock produced by sudden physical injury, as from violence or accident. In asanas, some teachers push the student and that easily results in injuries, also while doing balancing positions, students lose balance, and cause injuries which can include broken bone, torn muscles, torn ligaments, and torn tendons. Overlooking the pain and discomfort while doing asanas or yoga poses, ultimately can results in serious injury.

Sprain - is an injury in a joint, caused by the ligament being stretched beyond its capacity. Ligaments are tough, fibrous tissues that connect bones to other bones in joint. Sprains can occur in any joint. Symptoms are pain, Swelling, Bruising, Decreased ability to move the limb, if the ligament is rupture; one may hear a popping sound. In yoga class, students have a tendency to overstress the joints like in lotus pose, or poses which involve bending the knee or poses like arm balances. Also yoga poses which involve extreme stress on joint, like warrior or veerasana or standing poses involving bending the knee.

A strain - is an injury to a muscle or tendon in which the muscle fibres tear as a result of overstretching. A strain is also colloquially known as a pulled muscle. The equivalent injury to a ligament is a sprain. In yoga practice, pulling hamstrings or pulling lower back muscles is a common complaint. 

Now let us see what causes these problems. To understand these problems in yoga class, we first need to understand the body, its limits, and physiological processes. Our body has its own warning mechanisms and way to convey any wrong movement or posture.

What causes these Injuries?

1.       Pushing yourself against your limits, using force to strain the joints, muscles, ligaments and tendons, also the purpose of asanas is to connect mind with your body and not create an aggressive or arrogant attitude towards the body by pushing it beyond limits without care.

2.       Not paying attention to the known weaknesses, for example sometimes even if the lower back is weak, student wants to push in forward bends and finally injures himself.

3.       Someone else is pushing you in positions – there is a fashion that Yoga teachers would push their students in the pose as the teachers like to see it. Only you can understand your body and not someone else. Yoga teachers should understand this point and focus more on their understanding of Science of Yoga. Yoga is not about obsession of doing a particular pose or asana but it is a harmony between body and mind.

4.       Not enough warm up before doing advance asanas. If the joints and muscles are not warm enough then there is possibility that while doing an advance asana, the stress and strain might overstrain the joint or pull the muscle resulting in an injury.

5.       Completely ignoring signs and symptoms that body tells you,

a.       First sign is discomfort which is the reaction of the body that is telling about you reaching the limits of the body joints and muscles.

b.      Fatigue is another sign telling you that the stamina and strength is not there anymore so body is losing control over movement & stability of the joints and muscles.

c.       Pain is a clear warning that body is giving us to stop what we are doing. Pain may develop immediately or after few hours.

6.       Not paying attention to the Basic alignment principles while doing asanas is also a reason for injuries.

Following are some common asanas or yoga poses that can result in injuries.

  1. Lower back injuries – strong forward bends like paschimottanasana or strong back bends like bhujangasana or cobra pose, raised leg pose or even while doing shoulder stand or head stand or yoga poses involving twisting and forward bending at the same time, sometimes fast movements such as Surya Namaskar which involve series of forward bends, back bends can put the lower back at high risk, sometimes too much jumping and doing downward dog can also put extra stress on lower back and hamstrings.
  2. Hamstrings and calf muscles – stretching asanas like ferocious pose or forward bends in standing position asanas
  3. Knee joints – padmasana or lotus pose and various other poses that include lotus pose, also other sitting meditative poses which stress the knee joints, also standing positions where the knee is bent and knee joint stretched over putting the joint at high risk
  4. Upper back, shoulder and neck joints – hunching the back in forward bends, asanas like shoulderstand, head stand, inversions
  5. Wrists and elbows – arm balances where the weight of the body is on the wrists and / or elbows
  6. Hips – strong twisting poses, meditative postures, yoga poses involving twisting and bending forward at the same time

General treatment for these injuries is includes following 

Rest: The sprain should be rested. No additional force should be applied on site of the sprain. In case of, for example, a sprained anklewalking should be kept to a minimum.

Ice: Ice should be applied immediately to the sprain to reduce swelling and pain. It can be applied for 10-15 minutes at a time (longer application of ice may cause damage instead of healing), 3-4 times a day. Ice can be combined with a wrapping to minimize swelling and provide support.

Compression: Dressings, bandages, or ace-wraps should be used to immobilize the sprain and provide support. When wrapping the injury, more pressure should be applied at the far end of the injury and decrease in the direction of the heart, the reason for this is that it causes unnecessary fluid to be flushed back up the blood stream easier in order to be recycled. Compression should not cut off the circulation of the limb.

Elevate: Keeping the sprained joint elevated (in relation to the rest of the body) will also help to minimize swelling. 

Massage is helpful for many injuries, massage with oil such as sesame oil is helpful as it relaxes the muscles and helps heal the injuries faster by increasing the blood circulation.

In case, where either ligament or muscle tissue is torn, immobilization or surgical repair may be necessary.

Most important aspect in healing is the time that body needs to repair the damage. Many times practitioners start the practice after injury immediately without complete healing and injury comes back. That part of the body becomes weaker than before and it becomes a weakness for a long time.

But if we listen to the basics of yoga that is to create harmony between body and mind then we will be more caring, gentle, and compassionate to the body. We will develop more acceptance of our body with its limitations and weaknesses. Then surely there will be no injuries but all positive benefits of yoga practice.