The culprit is not yoga
In the past three years, more than 13,000 people in the United States had to seek medical attention due to yoga injuries. But Dr. Gary Dorshimer, Director of Internal Medicine/Sports Medicine Fellowship in Pennsylvania Hospital, does not think the situation is as grave as it sounds.
Southern Metropolis Weekly: What sort of cases have you observed in the past? Where were the injuries located and what caused them? Was there any pattern?
Dr. Dorshimer: The yoga patients I have treated in the past all had foot injuries, and most were muscle strains. Severe muscle damages and tendon ruptures are very rare.
Every sport carries some kind of risk, but I have not seen related statistics for yoga. I believe these injuries only occur occasionally, because yoga is not an intense sport. It doesn't require jumping up and down and so rarely causes serious damages like spinal cord injuries. However, old people will get hurt more easily. Past studies show that compared to other age groups, old people will be more likely to receive injuries when practicing the same moves. This is like people who sit on a boat. When the boat suddenly shakes, some older folks can suffer spinal fractures.
Another reason is that yoga is classified into advanced and beginner levels. For a newbie, practicing demanding asanas make them more prone to injury.
Southern Metropolis Weekly: A 2001 issue of Time magazine talked about the yoga fever in the States. Did the U.S. reach any conclusions regarding the injury rate? In the recent years, had any of the overseeing departments or medical experts given out warnings about the associated risks?
Dr. Dorshimer: In the U.S., be it about caffeine intake or gun usage, we warn everyone of the risks at every opportunity. Risk reports are typically given out during sports lessons, but I have not heard of any such thing for yoga, which in my opinion means that yoga injuries are low in occurrence.
Southern Metropolis Weekly: Some Chinese experts say that the asanas violate the human physiological structure. For instance the plow. Not everyone can practice yoga, which can potentially damage his/her spinal cords. These injuries are hard to heal. Therefore, before taking up the yoga, everyone should all arrange for a back examination to rule out any existing spinal problems. But even a prior checkup can not gaurantee that people won't get hurt. What thoughts do you have on this?
Dr. Dorshimer: In the U.S., these difficult poses are practiced by very few. Common people can't do them. All they need are some postures that will improve their balance and flexibility. Asanas like the plow require athletes or someone with good flexibility. I can't do it either. It is just risky and difficult for an ordinary trainer or a 60 year old man.
Southern Metropolis Weekly: From a sports/physiological perspective, will yoga ever be as universal as jogging?
Dr. Dorshimer: The answer depends on individual exercisers. Avoid overly demanding postures, warm up properly beforehand, stay away from asanas that overstretch the body, and be patient. Then I think yoga can become as universal as jogging.
Southern Metropolis Weekly： Some medical professionals believe that middle aged people should not practice yoga because of their aging spinal cords. What do you suggest?
Dr. Dorshimer: Many people believe that middle aged people can become good at yoga regardless of their profession. The fault does not lie with yoga but with the intensity with which you practice yoga. If you attempt asanas that are beyond your capability, you will get hurt. The standards for different bodies in different age groups will vary too. Even when a 20 year old college student and a 30 year old young man practice the same pose, they should follow appropriate criteria. For people in their middle age or older, yoga is safe if well-controlled. And the benefits outweigh the dangers.
Southern Metropolis Weekly: Given your expertise in sports medicine, can you give exercisers some suggestions?
Dr. Dorshimer: Nothing in particular. Again this mostly depends on the individuals. For example, soccer players need strength training to become stronger and to have better balance, but they are not good candidates for yoga, because they lack the flexibility. It is the opposite for young gymnasts and hockey players. So it all comes down to the exercisers' physiological conditions and the particular asanas.
The problem is that many young people are excited by new things, and they always want to try the postures they have never done before just to exercise all of their muscles. I think this is the major reason why people get hurt. No matter what their age is, I would recommend that people stay away from difficult poses, such as this kind of rotation (stands up to demonstrate the move), because it poses a risk. Don't attempt asanas that exceed the body's limit, then the probability of receiving injuries will be less.