Although many people speak of the benefits of yoga, I have neither been drawn to it nor was every inclined to practice it. But it appears that yoga may do more harm than good, research reveals. The risk of pain is said to be ten times higher than feared whilst the practice causes as many injuries as sports, scientists have warned. Celebrity fans of the exercise routine, said to boost physical and mental well-being, include Beyoncé, Super model Gisele Bundchen, and the Beckhams.
But a study finds it causes musculoskeletal pain – mostly in the arms – in more than 1 in 10 who practice it. It also worsens a fifth of existing injuries, found academics in Austrialia and the US. Professor Evangelos Pappas, of Sydney University, said: ‘Yoga may be a bit more dangerous than previously thought. Our study found the incidents of pain caused by Yoga in more than 10% per year – which is comparable to the rate of all sports injuries combined among the physically active population. However, people consider it to be a very safe activity. This injury rate is up to 10 times higher than has previously been reported.’
Yoga involves achieving a series of postures and movements designed to increase strength, flexibility and breathing. It is becoming a very popular complementary, alternative therapy for musculoskeletal disorders. Classes are now commonplace in leisure centres, hospitals, surgeries and even schools. But the study of more than 350 enthusiasts at yoga classes in the US found that it may be causing the same kind of pain it is trying to ease. Professor Papas said: ‘While yoga can be beneficial for musculoskeletal pain, like any form of exercise it can also result in musculoskeletal pain.’
The study also found yoga made existing injuries worse in 21% of cases – particularly in the arms. More than a third of injuries kept yoga fans out of classes for more than 3 months. Research found that most new pain was in the upper body, including the shoulder, elbow, wrist and hand – due to postures like the so-called downward dog that puts weight on the upper limbs.
Professor Papas said: ‘It’s not all bad news, however, as 74% of participants reported that existing pain was improved by yoga, highlighting the complex relationship between musculoskeletal pain and yoga practice.’ He recommended that anyone thinking of doing yoga discuss other exercise options with their doctor or physiotherapist beforehand. Yoga teachers should also talk about the risk of injuries.
The study was carried with Mercy College in New York and published in the Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies. Some experts say regular yoga practice can help combat high blood pressure, heart disease, lower back pain, depression and stress.
The NHS says most forms of yoga are not strenuous enough to count towards the 150 minutes of moderate activity as set out by government guidelines. Nevertheless, I’m not one who favours yoga despite its possible benefits. I could be wrong, but it is far better to err rather than injure oneself in old age.