Serious Injuries Linked To Yoga

Strokes, Back Injuries Could Be Related To Some Poses

At CorePower Yoga, Colorado’s largest yoga studio network, membership is up nearly 60 percent in three years.

"The physical benefits are huge," said Kristal Boska, the studio manager at one Denver location.

But after years of hearing about yoga’s healing rewards, 7NEWS is digging into the risks.

"Yoga, in some circles, is portrayed as a panacea. Clearly, nothing is a panacea," said Dr. Venu Akuthota, with the University of Colorado Sports Medicine Center.

Allie Santander said she learned that the hard way.

"I was 26. Nobody thought I was having a stroke," said Santander.

Twelve years ago, the Boulder mother had been trying out yoga for about a month. She remembered one pose in particular -- the plow.

"You don't feel what could be happening. It's not like your muscles hurt because you pulled it,” Santander said.

Santander said the next day, she suffered a stroke, temporarily paralyzing the left side of her body.

“I don't think yoga caused my stroke, but I think it contributed to it because of my arteries in my neck being contracted," she said.

It’s not unheard of. William Broad, author of The Science of Yoga, said many case studies indicate a link between some yoga poses and stroke. He pointed to a 1972 article in the British Medical Journal that argued that extreme motions of the head and neck threaten to cause strokes in relatively young, healthy people.

"You crank your neck around, and these arteries in here can be damaged, and the next thing you know, clots are flowing into your brain and you have brain damage," said Broad.

Akuthota said any position that torques the neck or places body weight on it could cause serious injury.

“I think there are a couple (of poses) that I would tell people not to do outright," said Akuthota. “But, stroke is an exceedingly rare yoga risk.”

He has seen plenty of other yoga-related injuries. Lower back, knee and shoulder injuries are the most common, he said.

"Quite a few people that have done spine twisting poses and they injure their lower back," he said.

Dr. Ted Parks, who works in Sports Medicine with Presbyterian St., Luke’s, said he has seen many a torn meniscus.

"The stereotypical injury is an older person, usually male, who is not conditioned well and takes up yoga," said Parks.

Still, both doctors said yoga's rewards far outweigh the risks, and author William Broad, who has studied the potential harm, practices yoga every day, skipping the shoulder stand and the plow.

"I think it's only going to grow in the future. It's too good to ignore," said Broad.

"There are people who are out there who push too hard, too far, too much, like in any sport, and they get hurt," said Boska.

But the key, she said, is to be mindful that when it comes to yoga’s risks and rewards. She said, “No pain, no gain” doesn’t translate to “Namaste.”

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