Some of the most common injuries in yoga are muscle or joint problems, though most problems are mild. Yoga can even be a safe and helpful form of exercise for people with joint issues like rheumatoid arthritis, as long as you know how to modify postures with the help of your yoga teacher.
Here are seven tips to help keep your joints healthy and safe in yoga:
1. Protect your wrists: Spread your hands wide and evenly when your hands bear weight, such as in Downward Facing Dog Pose.
Beginners in yoga often tent their hands in Downward Facing Dog Pose, but this actually makes it more difficult on your hands and wrists. Make sure that your hands are spread wide and ground all corners of your palm on your mat. Your hands should be pressed down firmly enough that someone would not be able to pluck your fingers off the mat.
Dr. David Wei of Orthopaedic & Neurosurgery Specialists in Greenwich, CT, an orthopedic hand surgeon who specializes in injuries of the hand, wrist, and elbow, explains:
Many poses in yoga, such as the Downward Facing Dog require a fair amount of wrist extension, while simultaneously putting direct pressure on the palm of the hand. This can exacerbate existing wrist problems, as well as pre-existing carpal tunnel syndrome.
To help prevent this, make sure you press down evenly throughout the entire surface area of your hand in contact with your mat, so this decreases the weight or pressure at any one point. This also makes it safer for your hands and wrists. Or, try modifying the pose by using your forearms instead (Dolphin Pose modification).
2. Protect your shoulders
- Externally rotate your shoulders in Downward Facing Dog Pose to strengthen your external rotator cuff muscles.
In Downward Facing Dog Pose, make sure your hands are shoulders width apart and that your elbows are not sticking out towards the sides– this places weight unevenly on the inner parts of your hand. Instead, externally rotate your shoulders so that your elbows creases face forward, which allows weight to be more evenly distributed between all your fingers on your hand. This also activates your external rotators of your shoulders to help strengthen your rotator cuff and helps prevent future rotator cuff injury.
- Release tension in your shoulders: Melt your shoulders away from your ears. Chronic tension can lead to your shoulders creeping up towards your ears. Check your shoulders in poses like Warrior I, Warrior II Pose orUpward Facing Dog Pose to make sure that your shoulders are not hunched or shrugged. Draw your shoulder blades down and towards each other to release tension in your shoulder and neck muscles.
3. Protect your elbows:
- Tuck your elbows in towards your ribs when lowering down from High Plank/ Push-Up to Low Plank/ Push-Up Pose. Don’t let your elbows buckle outwards. If this does not feel comfortable, try lowering your knees during Low Plank Pose to build your core strength and support your elbows.
- When you jump back from Standing Half Forward Bend to Low Plank Pose, make sure your elbows are bent when landing in order to lessen the impact on your elbow joint. Avoid landing on a fully extended elbow (i.e., don’t jump back and land in High Plank Pose).