You’ve likely heard a friend or two extol the virtues of yoga. Among the many potential benefits of yoga are improved flexibility, reduced anxiety and depression, reduced chronic pain, and even lowered blood pressure.

But this doesn’t mean that yoga, if performed incorrectly, can’t also cause harm. Let’s dive into the most common yoga injuries and how we can prevent them.

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While most yoga injuries aren’t severe and go unreported, more serious issues can occur, including strains and sprains, fractures, and dislocations.

The truth is, injuries can happen any time, in any sport, or even while walking down the sidewalk — but scary injuries are rare. Most yoga injuries develop gradually over years of consistent overstretching and misalignment.

As with any physical activity, the safest approach to yoga is to learn how to practice the poses correctly and stay in tune with your body to avoid overdoing it.

To get the lowdown on common yoga injuries and specific tips for addressing them, we spoke to yoga instructors Steven Cheng of Simha Yoga Lab in Jersey City, New Jersey, and Julie Skaarup of Sol Yoga in Frederick, Maryland, as well as Jeni Livingston, a personal trainer and yoga instructor in New York.

Read on for their injury RX — from head to toe.

1. Wrists

When it comes to your wrists, it’s all about leverage. Placing all your weight in your wrists when your hands are on the mat can lead to muscle and joint injuries.

How to find relief

In any pose where weight is placed on your hands, distribute your body’s weight through both hands by spreading them wide and pressing through your fingers.

In Downward-Facing Dog (Adho Muka Svanasana), push your hips back to decrease the angle of your wrists to the floor. In arm balances, such as Crow Pose (Bakasana), look to see that your elbows are stacked directly over your wrists, Cheng says.

2. Elbows

Pain in your elbows can result from bending them out to the sides in poses like Low Plank (Chaturanga Dandasana). While it may be easier to execute, lowering down with outward-pointing elbows can put stress on both your elbows and your wrists.

How to find relief

When bending your elbows in a pose (particularly Plank or Chaturanga), keep them tucked alongside your ribs as you bend them. Also, make sure your elbows’ creases face forward, Cheng says.

If this is difficult (yes, it’s a serious test of triceps strength), start with your knees on the floor. Remember, you can always work up to the unmodified version through regular practice.

3. Shoulders

Beware the shrug. By raising your shoulders up toward your ears (like when moving into Upward-Facing Dog, aka Urdhva Mukha Shvanasana), you stop using the supporting muscles in your arms, shoulders, and neck.

Shrugging also compresses your shoulders, which can cause muscle injuries, Cheng says. Even worse: It’s easy to injure your shoulder girdle or rotator cuff (and even dislocate the joint) by overextending or overstretching.

How to find relief

Let go. Be careful not to pull too hard on your shoulders in stretches, and always keep them held back and down away from your ears, Livingston says.

4. Ribs

Twists are awesome for releasing tension, but if done improperly they can overextend or bruise the intercostal muscles (the muscles in between your ribs).

How to find relief

Lengthen upward through your spine before twisting. Imagine that someone has a string attached to the crown of your head and is very gently pulling you up toward the ceiling. Twist to the point of feeling a stretch but not past it, even if you’re flexible, Cheng says.

5. Lower back

Lower back pain is a frequently cited yoga injury, and teachers speculate that it’s likely the result of rounding through the spine in poses like Forward Fold (Uttanasana) and Downward-Facing Dog.

Rounding causes your spine to flex the opposite way than it’s supposed to, Livingston says, which can cause disc problems in addition to that achy feeling post-class.

How to find relief

Before hinging at the hips and bending down, imagine lengthening your spine up and away from your hips. This will help you avoid rounding in your spine.

If you’re still struggling to stay on the straight and narrow, try bending your knees in poses like Forward Fold and Downward-Facing Dog, Livingston says, since the culprit could be tight hamstrings.

During Seated Forward Fold (Paschimottanasana), try sitting on a blanket or block to take pressure off your lower back. This will also help you hinge forward even more.

6. Hamstrings

Spend most days sitting in front of a computer, in class, or in a car? Guilty as charged. As a result, many of us have tight hamstrings, so it’s easy to pull or overstretch them in poses like Forward Bend, Cheng says.

How to find relief

Downward-Facing Dog, Warrior I (Virabhadrasana I), and Crescent Lunge (Anjaneyasana) are great ways to stretch out your hamstrings. Just remember to go slowly and work at your own pace.

If you have any kind of hamstring injury, try laying off poses that extend through the back of your body until the injury heals.

7. Hips

It’s easy to overextend the range of motion in your hips in Split (Hanumanasana), Warrior II (Virabhadrasana II), and Wide-Legged Forward Fold (Prasarita Padottasana), Cheng says, which might tear the muscles of your inner groin or inner thighs.

How to find relief

A good general rule is to make sure your toes are pointed forward in any pose where your hips are squared off in the same direction (think: Warrior I).

Imagine there are headlights attached to the front of your hips and you’re trying to keep the area straight ahead of you illuminated at all times.

8. Knee

Knee issues can plague even experienced yogis well after class. A common culprit of pain is the cross-legged position, Livingston says. Flexibility carries from your hips first — if your hips are tight in the pose, your knees will be the first place to feel pain or tension.

How to find relief

If you’re regularly bothered by knee pain, avoid sitting in cross-legged position or Full Lotus (Padmasana) for long periods unless your hips are already very flexible, Livingston says. Placing a block or rolled-up blanket under your knees in cross-legged positions can also help reduce strain.

For low lunges, place a blanket under your knees. Any time your knee is bent in a standing pose (such as in Warrior I and Warrior II), look to see that there’s a vertical line from your bent knee to your heel, Cheng says. This ensures that your body is bearing weight properly.

9. Neck

Headstand (Sirsasana) and Shoulder Stand (Sarvangasana) can be the worst culprits for neck pain and injury, says Skaarup.

Repeatedly and incorrectly placing pressure on your neck leads to compression and puts pressure on your cervical vertebrae. This can result in joint issues and, in some cases, loss of neck flexion.

How to find relief

For starters, always arrive with a beginner’s mind. When you see others doing cool upside-down postures, it can be tempting to give them a shot well before you’re ready. If you’re newer to yoga, master the modifications and build up your core and shoulder strength before trying these poses.

If you already have chronic neck or shoulder issues, it might be best to avoid full inversions altogether, Cheng says. If you really want to advance your practice, attempt them only with close supervision and using props that elevate your neck away from the floor.

If you already practice the pose without props, make sure your shoulder blades are drawn down and back so they’re safely supporting your body. Most importantly, never jerk your head once you’re up in the pose, Skaarup says, because it can destabilize your body, possibly causing a fall.

Proper alignment in poses is key, but it’s not the only factor in a safe yoga practice. To stay blissed out instead of stressed out over injury, follow the basic guidelines below.

Leave your ego outside

It can be tempting to rush into more advanced poses (how tough can handstands be, right?), but pushing your body is a recipe for injury. Yoga is “about finding where you are,” Skaarup says, “not trying to push to a place where your body may never be able to go.”

Warm up

Warming up is an important part of any physical activity, and yoga is no exception. Basic stretches (like neck rolls, shoulder rolls, and gentle twists) help prepare your body for more challenging poses later on in a sequence, Cheng says.

And remember to give your mind a chance to warm up to the practice: Take a few breaths to get centered at the beginning of class, or establish a pre-flow ritual (such as chanting some oms) to get grounded.

Ease in

No one would expect to run a marathon the first time they lace up their sneakers. Don’t expect to do Headstand or even get your heels to the floor in Downward-Facing Dog the first time you hit the mat, Livingston says.

Instead, opt for beginner-friendly or all-levels classes that will develop the foundation for more advanced moves. Even if you’ve been doing yoga for a long time, it’s always good to take a refresher once in a while.

Communicate

Get to know the teacher and be sure to share any preexisting issues that might require modifications in certain poses, Cheng says. At the beginning of class, mention things like slipped discs, fractures, tears, or joint issues.

If you don’t know how to modify or use props in a certain pose, politely raise your hand and make eye contact with the teacher so you can get support. When the teacher comes over, keep it to a whisper so as not to disrupt the flow of class.

And if a pose just isn’t working, don’t be embarrassed to simply… not do it. Rest and take a Child’s Pose (Balasana) instead or focus on the poses that provide benefit and release to you.

Come out of postures slowly

This is particularly important if you’ve been holding a certain pose for several minutes, Skaarup says, like Pigeon Pose (Kapotasana) or Frog Pose (Mandukasana). A good general rule is to move out of a pose as gradually as you moved into it.

Use props and modifications

There’s no shame in not being ready to hold a pose completely on your own. If there’s tightness somewhere in your body, other parts of you will have to accommodate it, Livingston says, which is why it’s so important not to push your body past what it’s able to do on a given day.

Props and modifications allow your body to get a feel for a pose and gradually work up to its full variation without injury. It’s never a bad idea to grab a blanket and a couple of blocks at the beginning of class, and maybe even a strap for supine (floor) postures.

Never lock your joints

Hyperextension (locking) is a surefire way to wear out joints and cause injury down the road. Focus on engaging the muscles around the joints to gain stability, Cheng says.

In standing or balancing postures, like Tree Pose (Vrksasana), keep a microbend in the knee of your straight leg. In poses with one or both arms straightened out, like Warrior II, keep a gentle bend in those elbows as well.

Stay for Savasana

It’s easy to head for the door as soon as the instructor calls for Corpse Pose (Savasana), the final resting pose of a yoga flow. But sticking around is good for your health.

Savasana allows your nervous system to slow down and brings closure to the practice. Even just 2 or 3 minutes can have an effect, Cheng says.

At all stages of yoga practice, stay mindful. Really listen to your body so you can be sensitive to any tightness or strain. Even if you did a particular pose one day, that doesn’t mean your body will be able to do it the next.

“In our yoga practice,” Skaarup says, “we are building a relationship with our bodies the same way we build them with other people: by listening.”