Healthy and Active: Injury affecting your yoga practice?

Every yogi has been there. That forward fold was just a little much for your hamstrings. Or maybe your right shoulder tweaks on that fourth round of sun salutations. Or perhaps your left knee hurts in lotus, tree pose, or pigeon.  Most of the time, we carry on, thinking more yoga will bring resolution to our issues. And then it doesn’t, and then you’re stuck. It doesn’t have to be this way. Physical therapy can help you resolve your biomechanical problems so that you can return to yoga happier, healthier, and with more body awareness in your practice.

The documented benefits of yoga are endless. A study in the April 2015 issue of Diabetology & Metabolic Syndrome noted that yoga improved cardiovascular health after researchers followed 182 middle-aged Chinese adults who suffered from metabolic syndrome who practiced yoga for a year. Another study in Topics in Geriatric Rehabilitation in 2016 shows that 12 minutes of yoga a day reverses osteoporotic bone loss. And yet another study published in Translational Psychology in the same year shows that combining meditation and aerobic exercise reduces depression.

Similarly, there is a large body of evidence for the use of physical therapy in treating many muscle-and-joint-related issues when compared to more invasive interventions. A New England Journal of Medicine study showed physical therapy to be just as effective as surgery in patients with meniscal tears and arthritis of the knee.  A 2015 study from the Annals of Internal Medicine shows that physical therapy intervention has equivalent results as surgery in the treatment of spinal stenosis.  And another recent study published in the Bone and Joint Journal states that when it comes to treatment of non-traumatic rotator cuff tears, physical therapy alone produces results equivalent to arthroscopic and open surgical repair.

Based on the evidence, it seems clear that doing physical therapy to prevent and/or address yoga injury may be a better choice than alternative interventions. Physical therapists are biomechanical experts, and those that have experience with the yoga postures, or asanas, are uniquely positioned to help yoga practitioners understand why certain movements are difficult or causing pain and dysfunction.  In the case of injury, physical therapists can look at your body and movement patterns and determine involved anatomic structures, stage of tissue damage, and the level of activity modification necessary to put you on the path to recovery. They can also perform hands-on techniques, such as joint mobilization and tactile cueing, to help you move safely and effectively through postures without compensation or strain.

Practicing yoga is a great way to stay healthy, both mentally and physically. It can keep depression and anxiety at bay as well as increase strength, flexibility, symmetry and balance.  If you want to practice yoga but find that you are limited by pain, physical therapy can help.  Combining the practices offers a holistic and winning alternative to more aggressive intervention by addressing the root mechanical cause of injury rather than the symptom. This leads to better results, longevity as a practitioner, and a deeper understanding of the body.

In the spirit of yoga, physical therapy practice, and knowing your body better, I leave you with the words of the great George Sheehan, physician, senior athlete and running legend: “The body mirrors the mind and soul, and is much more accessible than either.  If you can become efficient at listening to your body, you will eventually hear from your whole self.”

Dr. Ryan Simmons is a Physical Therapist at MoveMend in Madison Valley. Contact her at 206.641.7733 or visit