In the United States, about 24.5 percent of women ages 65 and over and 5.1 percent of men in this age bracket have osteoporosis of the femur neck or lumbar spine.
Osteoporosis is a condition in which bone tissue becomes thinner and thus more likely to break. The medical term for the precursor stage is osteopenia.
Past studies have suggested that practicing yoga could have a protective effect against osteoporosis, though their findings have remained inconclusive.
Now, research conducted by a team from the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN, warns that people who already have this bone condition may be putting themselves at risk by practicing yoga indiscriminately.
The new study’s findings — featured in the journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings — indicate that certain yoga poses may harm people with osteopenia or osteoporosis, leading to further soft tissue and bone injury.
“The benefits of yoga in terms of flexibility, strength, and balance are widely known,” the researchers write. “However,” they add, “multiple reports have described injuries resulting from yoga, ranging from mild muscle strains to bony fractures.”
“For osteoporotic and osteopenic patients, in particular, the reports of bony injuries raise concerns that warrant further investigation,” the authors note, explaining that these concerns stood at the root of their study.
Some yoga poses are risky
In order to verify the link between the practice of yoga and the experience of additional injuries in people with osteoporosis, the research team analyzed the health records of 89 individuals.
Each had begun seeking treatment at the Mayo Clinic between 2006 and 2018 due to pain that they thought had been caused by yoga participation.
Some were yoga beginners, while others were adept practitioners, but they all experienced pain in one or more of the following areas: their back, neck, shoulders, hips, or knees.
When asked, the participants pointed to 12 specific yoga poses as having either caused them pain or worsened existing pain, and most of these required flexing or extending the spine.
These included poses such as Downward-Facing Dog, Bridge Pose, and the Supported Headstand.
Using these participants’ health records, medical exams, and imaging results, the researchers categorized the injuries sustained as bone injuries, soft tissue injuries, or joint injuries.
In the end, the investigators concluded that, among the study participants, specific yoga poses had led to 29 types of bone injuries, which included disk degeneration, vertebrae slippage, and compression fractures, likely due to poses that exacerbated the pressure on disks and vertebrae.
‘Modify the postures’ to fit your needs
The researchers do not discourage people with osteopenia or osteoporosis from practicing yoga. However, they do encourage them to modify certain poses to reduce the risk of injury.
“Yoga has many benefits. It improves balance, flexibility, strength and is a good social activity,” notes senior author Dr. Mehrsheed Sinaki.
“But if you have osteoporosis or osteopenia, you should modify the postures to accommodate your condition. As people age, they can benefit by getting a review of their old exercise regimens to prevent unwanted consequences.”
Dr. Mehrsheed Sinaki
Indeed, the research team notes that those individuals who heeded this advice and changed some of their yoga poses also experienced less pain and improved symptoms.
“Physicians are encouraged to discuss […] risks with their patients when asked about the safety of yoga, and appropriate exercise programs should be recommended on a case-by-case basis,” the authors recommend in the conclusion to their article.
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