MD, PhD, FMedSci, FRSB, FRCP, FRCPEd.

Some time ago, the NYT carried an article entitled HOW YOGA CAN WRECK YOUR BODY. While this might be just a trifle alarmist, it seems clear that injuries can occur and do occur more and more – not least because yoga has become so very popular. It seems relevant therefore to ask what the risks truly are. A recent article might be useful in this respect.

The aim of this study was to examine whether a national sample of yoga practitioners would report discontinued use of yoga due to injury from the practice, assess what injuries resulted in discontinued use, determine what injuries were most common and identify injuries requiring medical attention. The authors used a secondary data analysis of a nationally representative sample of 23,393 adults from the United States.

The results indicate that less than 1% of individuals who had ever practiced yoga (n = 2230) reported an injury from yoga that led to discontinued use. Of those reporting injury, less than one-third (n = 4) reported seeking medical attention. The most commonly reported side-effect of yoga was back pain. Approximately, half of those reporting back pain sought medical attention.

The authors concluded that injury due to yoga is an infrequent barrier to continued practice and severe injury due to yoga is rare.

So, yoga is fairly safe but, in rare cases, injuries can occur. If you are interested in preventing such harm, there are some precautions you can take to make sure you do not sustain injuries.

And one last thing: in my experience,  many yoga make quite absurd claims – so, if it sounds to be too good to be true, it probably is.

7 Responses to What are the adverse effects of yoga?

  • My sister-in-law is a long time yoga practitioner. She was recently diagnosed with severe glaucoma. She had the notion that headstands would help her glaucoma (probably with the idea of bringing more blood flow to the eyes), but I found several PubMed abstracts about inverted poses being hazardous for glaucoma sufferers as they dramatically increase intro-ocular pressure. ()

    I shared them with her and think she got the message. In her case, continued yoga headstands could lead to permanent blindness! This may indicate a group of people who think yoga is still helping when it is worsening a health problem.

    She still, I think, believes in astrology… At least that won’t cause blindness (other than to reality).

  • In my experience, the biggest adverse effect of yoga is that it can easily become a gateway to more serious forms of airy-fairy New Ageism, usually with much flaunting of the chakras.

    In France, before you practise a licensed sport you need to have a medical certificate attesting you’re fit to do so, or at least specifying what you may or may not do. Perhaps this should be encouraged to as standard practice everywhere. Of course, there will always be screams at the idea of regulating yoga…

  • ” … the NYT carried an article entitled HOW YOGA CAN WRECK YOUR BODY. While this might be just a trifle alarmist, ”

    The author of the article cited, William J. Broad, wrote the much maligned book, The Science of Yoga: The Risks and the Rewards, because he had the temerity to include an objective chapter evaluating jury risk. Because of its spiritual and quasi-religious overtones, most practitioners are loath to address negative aspects or misrepresentations of their yoga practice, including the chronic injuries that inflict a high percentage of long-term adherents. Perhaps the most dangerous form of yoga is the ever popular Bikram Yoga which employs hot studios and fixed routines to allow postures to extend well beyond reasonable limits. Several Orthopedic surgeons have told me that “downward facing dog” brings them more clients than golf.

  • Yes, Teapot, be careful. Avoid yoga …you don’t want to get TOO healthy.

    As to your other point… In the allopathic world, before you embark on an exercise and healthful eating regimen to improve your health. they strongly recommend, and feel it is prudent advice, that you see your medical doctor first. Just in case it’s not a good idea.

    Also in the allopathic world, if you want to gain 100 pounds, eat junk, let your BP/ cholesterol get too high, have your arteries clog, never exercise, sit in front of the TV all day and let your health generally go to hell — no problem. You don’t have to check with them. Just go right ahead. Enjoy!

    • You have to check your health first to find the most appropriate type of exercise for you. Doctors you call allopaths will reccomend immobility only if it is necessary for healing of wounds or broken limbs and even then you have to get up as soon as possible, because immobility increases risk of embolism.
      As to the diet: fat person will be certainly told to eat less, constipated – to eat more vegs, anaemic girl will have to have long conversations about different ways to maintain normal hemoglobin (mainly different meats or iron pills) etc.

  • Attempts to assess the usefulness or dangers of yoga as a practice will always be contaminated by the wide variety in the quality of instructors. Yoga Instructor is not a regulated title (at least in the UK) and they include practitioners who do not know enough to be safe.

    Teapot is right to suggest that yoga can a gateway to worse, to other forms of woo. The other day I heard a yoga fan (yogini?) talking with enthusiasm about Rescue Remedy, which is homeopathy. I backed off at this point: if she went on to talk about horoscopes I didn’t hear it.

  • Russians have decent consumer oriented programs and one was pretty critical also about yoga, including doctors telling about strains, sprains and even torn ligaments. One may say that in the lights of the “return to the Russian Orthodox origins” they are supposed to be critical, however who would pay for yoga classes? Most likely all kind off office workers, and, unless yoga trainer is qualifeid as physiotherapist, group is small or training is individual injuries are very real.

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