When yoga can be bad for your bones

I am a believer in yoga. Not as a religious practice, because that doesn’t really capture what it is and what it does for me.

No, I believe in what yoga has done for my body and my mind.

Every Sunday morning, I take to the mat with about 10 other people in a class our teacher calls “Restorative Yoga.”

None of that contortionist stuff for me. This class is about slowing down, becoming aware of the body, and challenging it but not harming it.

But most of all, it’s about breathing, which in itself is a form of meditation.

Meditation makes your heart healthier. So does yoga.

Beyond the obvious good it does for your back and other joints, practicing yoga offers so many other proven health benefits:

But recent research has caught me up short.

It warns that people with osteoporosis need to be careful. So do people like me — who have “pre-osteoporosis,” known as osteopenia.

For us, there are certain yoga poses that will do more harm than good.

Whether you’re already involved in yoga practice or thinking about starting one, this is important information.

When yoga may be too much

Research conducted by the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN indicates that specific yoga poses could actually lead to more damage to both bones and soft tissue for people with osteoporosis.

The study looked at a group of 89 people with osteoporosis who identified injuries they’d sustained as resulting from their yoga practice.

Soft tissue injuries included rotator cuff injury and bursitis (inflammation) of the hip joint.

A bone deformity known as kyphosis was observed among many of these patients. So was spondylolisthesis, a slipping of the vertebra at the base of the spine. Compression fractures of the lower spinal vertebrae were also common.

Yoga poses to avoid

The patients in the study pointed to a dozen yoga poses that either caused their injury or worsened existing pain and stiffness.

Some of those “guilty” yoga poses that are pretty commonly practiced are:

Downward facing dog. This pose is performed by planting your hands and feet on the ground and elevating your hips in the air like an upside-down “V.”

Plow.  Here, you lie on your back and lift your hips toward the ceiling, trying to bring your toes over your head and onto the floor. This is what’s known in yoga as an “inversion pose.”

According to Yoga International, people with osteoporosis should avoid inversion poses. They put a lot of pressure on the cervical and lumbar spine, and increase the chances of injury.

Seated twists also put a lot of pressure on the lower spine. For fragile bones, this only increases the chance of a fracture.

Boat Pose.  In boat pose, your body looks just like the letter “V.” When it’s done correctly, it’s great for building core abdominal strength.

Unfortunately, many people don’t have that strength to start out with and end up compensating by rounding the spine and loading the lower back with pressure. Again, this is harmful to someone with osteoporosis.

How to practice yoga safely

After reading this, you may be thinking that yoga is a bad idea for you if you have fragile bones. That would be a mistake.

Practiced safely, yoga can strengthen your bones and the muscles that support your posture.

The key here is to start slowly and to protect your bones. If your osteoporosis is advanced, you may want to check with your doctor before starting a yoga practice, since even the simplest of movements could cause a fracture.

Bill Reif, an Atlanta physical therapist with over forty years of experience, offers a sequence of yoga poses he considers safe and effective for people with osteoporosis. You can download it from yogainternational.com.

If you practice yoga safely, with professional advice, and with respect for your fragile bones, it can still transform your mental and physical health.

Sources:

  1. Osteoporosis: Some yoga poses may cause bone injuries — Medical News Today
  2. Soft Tissue and Bony Injuries Attributed to the Practice of Yoga: A Biomechanical Analysis and Implications for Management — Mayo Clinic
  3. Yoga Poses to Avoid With Osteoporosis — Livestrong.com
  4. Yoga and Osteoporosis: The Do’s and Don’ts — Yoga International
  5. When Back Pain Is a Spine Compression Fracture — Spine-health

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Joyce Hollman

By Joyce Hollman

Joyce Hollman is a writer based in Kennebunk, Maine, specializing in the medical/healthcare and natural/alternative health space. Health challenges of her own led Joyce on a journey to discover ways to feel better through organic living, utilizing natural health strategies. Now, practicing yoga and meditation, and working towards living in a chemical-free home, her experiences make her the perfect conduit to help others live and feel better naturally.