Blog Post

Study: Yoga More Dangerous Than Previously Thought

man doing yogaIn spite of all the hype about the health benefits of yoga, a new study has found that the injury rate of yoga is 10 times higher than previously reported. 

The Telegraph is reporting on the new study, published in the Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies, found that musculoskeletal pain, mostly in the arms, was found in more than one in ten participants in yoga. Existing injuries were also found to worsen in 21 percent of those with injuries.

"Our study found the incidence of pain caused by yoga is more than 10 percent per year - which is comparable to the rate of all sports injuries combined among the physically active population,” said Professor Evangelos Pappas of Sydney University, the study’s lead researcher.

“However people consider it to be a very safe activity. This injury rate is up to 10 times higher than has previously been reported."

In light of these findings, he determined that “yoga may be a bit more dangerous than previously thought.”

Professor Pappas said: "While yoga can be beneficial for musculoskeletal pain, like any form of exercise, it can also result in musculoskeletal pain. . . . We also found yoga can exacerbate existing pain, with 21 per cent of existing injuries made worse by doing yoga, particularly pre-existing musculoskeletal pain in the upper limbs.”

He added: "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 3 months"

The study also found that most 'new' yoga pain was in the upper extremities - shoulder, elbow, wrist, hand - possibly due to downward dog and similar postures that put weight on the upper limbs.

It wasn’t all bad news though. Seventy-four percent of participants reported that their pain improved with yoga.

Although rarely reported, news of the high injury levels associated with yoga practice was finally exposed a few years ago in the book by The New York Times science writer, William Broad, whose book, The Science of Yoga, documents both the good and the bad effects that yoga has on the body.

In one section, Broad quotes the celebrated yoga instructor, Glenn Black, a highly regarded faculty member at the Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, New York. Black has suffered numerous injuries and has the screws in his lower back to prove it. His herniated discs and spondylolisthesis came about as a result of performing extreme backbends that overstretched ligaments and destabilized his spine.

He describes typical yoga injuries ranging from pinched nerves in the neck to low back tightness, and injuries to knees and hips. As Professor Pappas’ study found, Black has also seen injured people enroll in yoga class only to have their injuries worsen.

In spite of these alarming facts, yoga is still touted as being the panacea for all that ails the modern man and woman. But that's just not what the studies say.

For example, a 2015 study led by Daniel Hughes, Ph.D. Assistant Professor and Clinical Exercise Physiologist at UT Health Science Center in San Antonio, Texas, he assigned a different kind of exercise, to be performed three times a week for one-hour, to three groups of people. One group was to do yoga, the second group was to do a typical gym workout, and the third was just asked to be consistently active in some way.

Professor Hughes was convinced that the gym workout would come out on top. But yoga therapist Nydia Tijerina-Darby, was certain her group would win.

In the end – neither won. The mode of exercise chosen by all three groups were equally effective.

Although all physical activity comes with a risk of injury, they don’t all come with yoga’s religious baggage. This means that those people who are just looking for a good workout need not be persuaded by yoga industry hype.