Bad karma: When yoga harms instead of heals

Inexperienced teachers and overeager students behind rise in injuries

MSNBC.com—July 15, 2008

In 2005, I was at my first yoga class in quite a while, as my busy life had been getting in the way of my routine. The class went fine until we neared the end. The teacher directed us into Plow pose.

Then I felt the throbbing. It started at the base of my skull, like a slow burn crackling down my neck. Within a week, I couldn't toss a tennis ball before a serve or pick up one of my baby cousins. My husband had to carry my weekend bag. After a few weeks, I went to a sports medicine specialist to see what I'd done to myself. We looked at my MRI together. "This mass right here is a bulging disk. It's pinching your nerve, which is why you're having pain down to your fingers," said Jordan Metzl, M.D., a sports medicine physician at Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City. That Plow pose was likely to blame. "Your disk could have been bulging before," Dr. Metzl said, noting that premature osteoarthritis (something I'd had no idea I had) was weakening my neck and spine. "But hyperextending your neck while putting weight on it most likely made it bulge even more, which pinched your nerve."

Several weeks of physical therapy later, my arm was functioning normally and painlessly. Still, I felt disillusioned. How could my beloved yoga have turned on me?

As it happens, I'm not the only one feeling done in by my practice: Nearly 4,500 people ended up in the emergency room after yoga injuries in 2006, slightly fewer than the year before but still up 18 percent since 2004, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (which tracks sports injuries even when they don't include equipment). Most often, the damage includes strained muscles, rotator cuff tears in the shoulders, exacerbated carpal tunnel syndrome in the wrists, torn cartilage in the knees, and lower-back and neck injuries such as herniated disks.

Read the full story on MSNBC.com.

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