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The Benefits of Physical Therapy for Yoga

Yoga has many incredible benefits, including but not limited to relaxation, stress relief, increased flexibility, cardio and circulatory health, and protection from injury. Beyond physical aspects, yoga also includes breathing, mediation, and total mind-body awareness and connection.

Guiding students into the safest most effective ways of practicing poses that meet their ability, so they can experience the holistic benefits of yoga, including self-healing, is something we take seriously.

Like any physical activity, occasional aches and pains may pop up during yoga. The most common way pain occurs is when an individual pushes their personal limits, leading to a potential injury or strain. Injuries can also occur from exercising incorrectly, or without proper form or guidance.

If you happen to be experiencing pain or discomfort during yoga, don’t panic! That doesn’t make yoga bad for your body.

Should you find yourself in pain with certain poses, there are certain modifications to poses that can be done, as well as stretches you can do to help to reduce pain, improve mobility, and prevent future injuries.

Potential Injuries

Here are some stretches and poses that can help you continue to do yoga poses without experiencing pain.

Lower Back Injuries and Pain

Physical therapy may include exercises to improve core stability and strengthen the back muscles and stretches to improve flexibility. Some therapists also use manual therapy techniques to reduce muscle tension and improve mobility in the lower back.

Stretches to do:

● Knee-to-chest stretch

● Hamstring stretch

● Pelvic tilt

● Cat-cow stretch

● Planks

Poses to modify:

● Seated forward fold - consider supporting your knees with blocks or a rolled blanket.

● Standing forward bend (Uttanasana) - bend your knees slightly. Try bending the knees more and resting the chest along the front of the thighs.

● Upward-facing dog (Urdhva Mukha Svanasana) - Slide a bolster or blankets underneath your hips and your pelvis.

Neck Pain or Stiffness

Neck soreness can result from certain yoga poses, particularly poses that put a lot of pressure on the neck or require your head to be held in a certain position for an extended period.

Physical therapy can treat neck pain or stiffness sustained during yoga with stretches and strengthening exercises to improve flexibility and strength in the neck muscles. Manual therapy techniques to relax the neck muscles and improve movement in the neck.

Stretches to do:

● Shoulder and head rolls

● Chin tucks

● Side-to-side turns (neck rotation)

● Shoulder blade squeeze

● Chin tucks

● Neck tilts

● Upper trap stretch

Poses to modify:

● Headstand - keep your head completely still. Consider avoiding this pose. ● Shoulderstand - support your hips on a chair to allow the weight to be taken off the neck.

● Plow Pose - use a blanket to protect the neck so the weight will shift from the neck to the shoulders.

Wrist Injuries

Yoga and physical therapy are a dynamic duo to combat these problems. Techniques such as massage, joint mobilization, and muscle energy techniques can help to reduce pain and inflammation while improving mobility in the wrist.

Stretches to do:

● Resisted wrist extension

● Wrist flexor stretch

● Prayer stretch

● Finger extensions

Poses to modify:

These poses put a lot of weight on the wrists.

● Plank pose - lowering knees to take more pressure off the wrists.

● Downward-facing dog - use a foam block or towel to place underneath your hands. You can also use a chair.

Knees Soreness

There are certain yoga poses, especially those that put a lot of pressure on the joints. Treatment may include stretches and strengthening exercises to improve flexibility and strength in the leg muscles and exercises to improve stability and balance.

Stretches to do:

● Straight leg raises

● Wall squats

● Hamstring curls

● Calf raises

Poses to modify:

● Low lunge - focus your weight forward to shift to the upper thigh instead of your knee joint.

● Pigeon pose - a simple modification is to elevate the hips off the ground and place a pillow underneath your hips.

● Lotus pose - Avoid forcing down the knee toward the mat in external (or internal rotation). Consider using props like a block under the knee.

● Warrior II - these poses can cause knee pain if the front knee is not appropriately aligned over the ankle.

Shoulder Injuries

Physical therapy for shoulder injuries related to yoga typically includes stretches and strengthening exercises to make the shoulder and upper back muscles stronger and more flexible. Manual therapy techniques can be used to reduce muscle tension and improve mobility in the shoulder.

Stretches to do:

● Shoulder blade squeezes

● Doorway stretch

● Seated twist

Poses to modify:

● Plank pose - consider a modified plank taking it down to your knees.

● Shoulder stand - use a blanket to support the shoulders.

Tips to Avoid Yoga Injuries

While yoga is used to heal the mind and the body, that doesn’t mean it’s risk-free. Here are some tips to stay injury-free and enjoy the holistic benefits of yoga:

Do a warm-up and cool down

Ensure a thorough warm-up before a yoga session — cold muscles, tendons, and ligaments are vulnerable to injury. Before starting your yoga practice, take 5-10 minutes to stretch and prepare your body. Don't forget to take the time to cool down and stretch after practice.

Don't overdo it

A big principle in yoga is not to compare yourself to others and checking your ego. Yoga should balance strength and flexibility, but hypermobile individuals should avoid overstretching or going too deeply into certain poses because that might cause injury or flare up an existing injury. You can always ask your instructor for help to modify a pose.

Listen to your body

You know you're getting into trouble if a stretch goes from feeling like a good stretch to pain. When kneeling or doing a forward fold, it should feel like muscle engagement. Some poses can be challenging in the sense of muscle fatigue, but it shouldn't feel like it hurts. If you have muscle soreness the day after exercise, that's normal. But if something hurts, that's a sign that maybe you overdid it or needed a different class type.

Use proper form

Proper form is crucial in preventing injury. Make sure you are engaging the correct muscles and aligning your joints properly. If you need help with the proper form, seek guidance from a qualified yoga instructor.

Pay attention to your breath

Deep breathing is an important aspect of yoga. Breathing helps to focus the mind and brings oxygen to the muscles, which is essential for injury prevention.

Drink water

Adequate hydration is essential for overall health and well-being, and it is imperative when practicing yoga. Drinking water helps prevent muscle cramps and strains. Be sure to drink plenty of water before, during, and after.

Stay Pain Free During Yoga

While yoga is a powerful way to heal your body, injuries during yoga can happen. If you are experiencing lingering pain, consider physical therapy. A licensed physical therapist can make a personalized plan to help you stay pain-free long term.

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