Here are six risk factors to consider in your practice:
Yoga is a wonderful way to maintain mobility in the joints, but we must be careful not to place excessive tensile load on the connective tissue and damage it. For example, an aggressive assist intended to make a student conform to the textbook lotus position can cause a microtear at the knee joint, i.e. the meniscus. This can happen at any age, but the risk is greater for people who are older because our connective tissue (muscles, tendons and ligaments) gradually lose collagen over time, making it less elastic and therefore less tolerant of stress. If you start Yoga later in life, you should not go beyond your normal range of motion and perform a forceful posture, otherwise you are at increased risk of musculoskeletal injury.
2. Genetics (body type)
There’s a lot of truth to the saying, “everybody is different.” Genetic predispositions will make someone a better gymnast or a sprint runner. Some people are born with a larger bone structure and more muscle bulk, whereas others are more slender and flexible with more elasticity in their tissue and laxity in the joint capsules. It is fairly easy to spot a person who will excel at Yoga and can perform the more difficult postures more easily.
The shape of our joints is genetically determined. Some people have a shallower joint surface than others. A good example is the hip joint. The hip joint is a ball and socket joint surrounded by many ligaments and small and large muscles. Someone with a shallower hip socket will have more mobility in the hip joint compared to someone with a deeper socket. In Yoga some people can perform the split without difficulty and some will probably never get there. An aggressive push into a split position can cause severe ligament, tendon and muscular damage to hip joints. The risk is higher for those with deep hip sockets.
3. Prior injury
If you have suffered from multiple ankle sprains or hamstring injuries from school or college sports, then you may have caused tissue damage. Old injuries can be detected in the tissue at the microscopic level. Relating this to Yoga, aggressive stretching or excessive force will only exacerbate the damage. For example, if the ligaments of the ankle are already lax (due to multiple ankle sprains) then an aggressive stretch to the ankle joint can make those ligaments even more lax and result in swelling and pain. The more you place excessive stress on the already damaged tissue, the more damage will occur. Strengthening the muscles sensibly around the ankle is beneficial, but overstretching the ankle is damaging to the connective tissue. Yoga postures that improve balance (e.g. tree or warrior III) are helpful, whereas a full lotus or any posture that turns the ankle too far in any direction is to be avoided.
If you sit in front of a computer all day, certain muscles will become fatigued and stretched (e.g. upper back muscles, tendons and ligaments) and some will be shortened (e.g. hamstring). You may have poor postural alignment and may be prone to overstretching the already stretched soft tissue. Without proper guidance and verbal cues, you may be at greater risk for injury.
If you spend much of your work day lifting heavy items you are going to have more muscle bulk in your arms (especially males). In certain postures you are more prone to injury because of muscle hypertrophy (increased muscle size). A forceful assist can not only damage the muscle/tendon but also the joint capsule. For example, the shoulder is a very loose joint which primarily relies on ligamentous and muscular support. Overstretching the shoulder capsule increases the risk of shoulder dislocation or subluxation (partial dislocation).
5. Years of practice/how often you practice
Someone who has had many years of Yoga practice from a young age will be more likely to know the postures well and have attained a degree of flexibility, making easier and more fluid movements, especially if the student has had the benefit of individualized attention from a skilled teacher. Then he or she will have learned the postures and will know their body’s limitations.
Females are generally more flexible because of hormonal effects. They are even more flexible during their menstrual cycle and during pregnancy. An awareness to specific hormonal changes among women should be considered while practicing Yoga. One is more likely to overstretch ligaments when pregnant or during the menstrual cycle. Limiting excessive movements and avoiding aggressive assists will decrease the risk for injury.
This entry was posted on Wednesday, October 10th, 2012 at 7:00 am
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