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Yoga & Stretching Injuries: Why people get hurt on their quest for bendiness

Yoga
photo: coordinator_tarun

I’m not sure about the rest of the world, but I live in Vancouver, BC and it seems like everyone is either doing Yoga or feels that they should be for some reason.  Its’ popularity has steadily grown over the past ten years to include a more and more diverse group of people.  Business men, athletes, seniors and kids have all joined in the sun salutations and downward dogs in a quest for flexibility and inner peace.  For the most part I think this movement is great, but as a physiotherapist I see countless injuries, postural issues and persistent pains that have their roots in people’s regular Yoga routines.  There are a lot of great things about Yoga, but it is not meant for everyone and you can have too much of a good thing.  In this post I discuss some of the negative consequences of Yoga, not to scare you away from it, but to help you go into it armed with the awareness of how not to hurt yourself.

Before you decide to start any new type of exercise you should ask yourself ‘what am I trying to get out of this?’  Many people blindly feel that Yoga is the answer to flexibility and although it can be for some, it can be an awkward, uncomfortable path to injury for others.  Flexibility is partly genetic, but largely a product of what you do all day; how you stand, sit, walk, breathe and feel will and does affect your flexibility.  It is a misconception that you are stiff because you don’t spend enough time stretching.  You are stiff because you either don’t move enough or you don’t move very well, or both.  Stretching more is simply not the answer.  In fact, I would say that there are millions of hours wasted every day by people stretching in attempt to get more flexible. 

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Core Training: When less is more

Big Myth:
–    If you have low back pain that means your “core is weak” and a “core strengthening” program would help you.

Sometimes the above statement is true, but just as often it is absolutely not.  There is not a direct correlation between low back pain and core strength.  In fact, many people that have incredibly strong “core” muscles suffer from regular low back pain, which is because strength is only one element of having good posture, alignment and movement.  It is the overall muscle balance in your body and your relative ability at controlling movement that is the true sign of good core stability and a preventative factor to low back pain.

Many, many, many people are stiff as hell, many of these people have low back pain and many of these people think that their planks, crunches and strength program will make them better.  Well I am here to tell you that there is a good chance it will make them worse.  Granted some will get better, but the most efficient way to improve your strength, flexibility, alignment and pain is to first learn a bit about your body type before pursuing any type of new program.

From a very young age, as you were learning to function in the vertical position, you have been developing strategies for how your body deals with gravity.  You picked up some by watching how your parents stand, walk and move.  You picked up others from your gymnastics classes and soccer practices when you were six.  The hard fall you had on your butt 20 years ago likely altered things and that car accident 5 years ago probably created some compensations.  Long story short, your posture, flexibility, movement and breathing patterns are a cumulative product of everything you have done up until today. Read More

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The Deep Inner Unit: "light core"

Your deep inner unit consists of four muscle groups that should work subconsciously to stabilize your pelvis, spine and ribcage under low load postures and movements like standing, bending and walking.  Accidents, injuries and developed muscle imbalances can cause portions of the deep inner unit to not do their job properly; the result can be pain and/or compensation from other muscle groups to try and brace to hold everything together.  Some of your other stronger muscles can make up for the deep inner unit, but this usually leads to too much compression on the joints and immobility in the area.  You function best when your body can use the little muscles to do light stuff and the bigger muscles to do harder stuff.  You can get away with purely building strength in your outer sling muscles, but you will be prone to breaking down more often if the little guys aren’t firing.

The four muscle groups are your pelvic floor, transverse abdominus, multifidus and diaphragm.  They form the bottom, front, back and top of your abdominal and pelvic cavity.  Recruitment of these muscles is more about thinking than doing.  They provide gentle compression to stabilize so your bigger muscles can move you.  I don’t like to re-invent the wheel so the best resource to learn about recruitment of these muscles can be found on Diane Lee’s website here: Training the deep muscles of the core

Although becoming aware of these muscles and consciously training them can be very important, they are supposed to act subconsciously and if you align your body in the proper way they will likely fire on their own.  I find it is the compensation strategies people choose in their posture that are inhibiting these deep inner unit muscles and that helping a person unlearn bracing strategies helps to fire up the deep inner unit more than trying to focus on them alone.  Read More

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What is my core? Depends who you ask

The word core has been very popular for quite a while now in the health, fitness and rehab worlds, but there isn’t really a true agreement as to what it actually means; it really depends on who you talk to.  If you ask physiotherapists, most will focus on the deep, subtle, picky muscles like your transverse abdominus.  If you ask strength and conditioning coaches, most will strive to build bracing stability using the obliques.  If you ask a Pilates instructor, most will focus on breathing and dissociation of movement.  Finally if you ask a lay person, most will just pat their stomach and say ‘I know I need to work on my core,’ without really knowing why.

You can watch the associated video at the end of this article.

So who’s right and who’s wrong?  The answer is you should be able to selectively use your body for whatever task you ask it to do.  The picky little muscles should work subconsciously while you stand, sit, walk and breathe.  The bracing muscles should work when you pick up or push something heavy and you should be able to bend, twist and stretch if you choose.  The people that are wrong are the ones that think their method is the only and best thing for everyone.  Typically the personal trainers need to be introduced to the Pilates instructors and the Pilates instructors need to do some personal training.  Most people have a need to work on something, but it is a misconception that building more strength and stability is always the best option.

Some people are naturally strong and stiff as a board while others are loose jointed with low muscle tone.  The first and best thing you can do for yourself before you attempt to do more of anything physically is to learn about your body type and learn what type of exercise would give you the most benefit.  Read More

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