Top 5 Yoga Injuries and How To Prevent Them

Top 5 Yoga Injuries and how to prevent them

Yoga injuries are on the rise, and for a discipline intended to heal and rejuvenate, the incidence of injury is alarming. There are no ‘bad’ poses, but there’s often bad practice and we tend not to realize we’ve injured ourselves until it’s too late.  When these injuries do occur, it’s frequently in the joints, because they’ve been forced into movements for which they were not designed.  Here’s a list of the top five yoga injuries and how to prevent them.

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Five areas vulnerable to injury

1.    Neck

The vertebrae of the neck enable the head to rotate 80 degrees.  Neck vertebrae are thin and small, as are the discs that cushion them.  Headstands, shoulder stands—or any pose where weight is deliberately, or inadvertently put on the neck is an opportunity for serious injury.

How to prevent neck injuries

If you want to prevent injury to the neck while performing weighted neck poses, be consistent, this means to have a daily practice.  However, even if you are consistent in your daily practice, don’t be afraid to seek the assistance of an experienced teacher.  It’s much better to ask for help or advice than to find yourself with an injury.  If you have medical issues such as high blood pressure or eye issues like glaucoma, you are at an even higher risk for potentially debilitating injuries.

2.  Knees

The knee is a hinge joint and should not be twisted.  Knees are particularly vulnerable in the Warrior poses: 

•    Warrior 1

•    Warrior 2

•    Side Angle 

•    Triangle

When the foot is anchored and the hips twisted, the knees bear the brunt of the hip rotation.  This is working actively against the function for which they were designed.

How to Prevent Knee Injuries

In Warrior poses, both the front and back knees are vulnerable.  Be sure to align the knee with the foot so the knee is stacked over the ankle and there is no inward collapse of the knee.  When the hip is rotating, ensure the back knee is not following suit.  As the hips twist, reposition the back heel so that you are not putting stress on the connective tissue of the knee.  

3.    Ankles

The ankle, like the knee, is not designed to twist.  But, in a twisting pose, if the foot is not lifted and turned, then the joint will be forced to move in a way that is likely to lead to injury.

How to Prevent Ankle Injuries

Spraining, twisting or repeated stretching of the ankles weakens the joint.  In any standing pose, it is imperative to position your foot so that the ankle feels comfortable.

4.  Shoulders

In the first half of the 20th-century, sun salutations were originally designed for teenage boys.  In the west, the majority of practitioners are not teenagers and instead are usually women. Downward dog and chaturanga rely heavily on upper body strength and are well suited to the shoulders and muscle mass of young males.  Often times, the practice has not evolved enough to suit demographic shifts.

How to Prevent Shoulder Injuries 

Poses that are weight bearing on the arms must be done so that muscles strengthen gradually.  Overuse of sun salutation can lead to shoulder injuries—moderation is the key.

5.    Lower back 

Folding forward with locked knees puts excessive load on the lower back.  Back bends done incorrectly can injure the SI joint, creating instability in the ligaments and cause debilitating injuries.  

How to Prevent Lower Back Injuries

When conducting a forward fold, be sure to always bend the knees. In a backbend, be sure not to allow the head to drop all the way back.  Instead, lift the breastbone, thereby lengthening the upper back, rather than crunching the lower spine.

How to do yoga for pain relief 

If you have pain, yoga can often be a great outlet, strengthen the body and ultimately take control of the pain you’re having.  When we change the way we breathe, when ego is gone, and we’re moving in communion with our bodies, pain can be significantly diminished, if not forgotten altogether.  Breathing with a relaxed jaw, inhaling through the nose, and relaxed belly muscles, allows the diaphragm to move, and maximizing oxygen intake into the body.

Pain is a brain response and is not always a good indicator of tissue damage.  For example:  when we break a toe, it’s not usually a serious injury but the pain can be intense.  With major trauma, the body often shuts down the pain response as the body moves into shock.  

However, when we experience pain, it is a message from the body to the brain that there is a problem.  With yoga, it’s important to listen and adjust or come out of a pose to alleviate any pain.  It is impossible to heal a joint with the same movement that created the injury in the first place.


Ultimately, it’s up to each one of us to listen to our body.  When we let go of our ego, we free ourselves to move in ways that are safe, sustainable and beneficial.  Yoga in its essence is about unity with the body we have in this lifetime. 

Our body is much wiser than our minds and will tell us when it needs to stop a pose.  We must never ‘work through’ joint pain.  There is a wise saying in yoga: ‘No pain, no pain.’ To unearth the power of the practice, we take the asana and make them work for our own unique beings.  Don’t be afraid to make the practice fit your body.  Yoga is not a one size fits all approach.  Rather, all sizes fit one—one practice that’s yours and yours alone.  Whole body, whole mind, whole breath. ☺

Karen Quinn