Too much flexibility can lead to injury. Read this post to avoid a painful yoga injury, keep your butt muscles healthy, and keep your body free of pain from too much stretching.
You can get an injury doing yoga? Surprisingly yes. Here’s my story about a Yoga Injury that taught me all about the dangers of too much flexibility and how I got my butt back.
As a dancer, the yoga studio always felt like home to me. It was a place I found community, got in touch with my body, relaxed my mind, and pressed the re-set button. From the very first sun salute, I loved it. I started practicing yoga in college at a local studio and took my love of yoga with me when I moved to San Francisco. The city is home to some of the best yoga in the WORLD, with studios that can see over 200 people per class and cult followings for specific teachers. Naturally I fell right into the scene and made yoga classes a part of my regular routine. I would take class 1-3 times per week and often include postures in the morning and evening. Forward folds and hip openers were my favorite. I loved it, it was one of the most challenging and rewarding physical disciplines I had experienced. I got stronger, I felt great, and my practice improved. I felt like I had come home.
But after several years of yoga-euphoria, something changed. First my practice plateaued. And then it started to hurt.
Although my mind and spirit loved yoga, my body began to whisper some objections. I started to have hip pain and contributed it to tight muscles from my love of running, spinning, and group fitness. So I stopped all other activity and did only yoga thinking it would help. Yoga is the “safe” form of exercise right? The opposite happened. It got worse. Little did I know my love of forward folds and hip openers had chronically overstretched my hamstring tendons and forced me to lose contact with the whole gluteus family: max, med, and min. As I continued to stretch, my balance became worse, my hip ached more, and all of the wear and tear caught up to me in my daily activities (even sitting was a pain in the BUTT).
For the longest time I didn’t want to be honest. I didn’t want to believe that my yoga practice was the culprit. I wasn’t ready to admit that I didn’t know how to fix it or how to practice any differently. But after 6 months I couldn’t do anything else, so learning and changing had to happen if I wanted to re-unite with the mat.
I finally chose to listen to my body and ask for help, I sent myself to a team physical therapists and a strength coach. In muscle “rehab” I learned all about over stretching and was surprised to learn how common it is a problem (especially for women, dancers, and flexible yoga folks). Physical therapists are seeing more patients with chronic hip, hamstring, and lower back problems. Excessive flexibility and weak stabilizing muscles are often the key factors leading to these injuries. I was still in dis-belief, I was never able to do the splits or any crazy pretzel postures, and had a hard time thinking of myself as “excessively flexible”. BUT I was overly flexible for MY body and years of “lengthening” through yoga and dance had weakened my muscles to the point of not functioning. It was like my hamstrings had become a rubber band that over time had lost elasticity. They were no longer responsive to the demands of movement, and their loose-ness caused me pain.
Now I want to be clear that there is nothing wrong with yoga. It’s simply that yoga – like any repetitive physical activity done over time – will dole out specific stimulation and specific wear and tear if it’s the only exercise that you do. And every body is different, we all have weak links that must be addressed for better, pain free movement. My yoga practice had created some weak links – If I wanted to really take care of my body, then I needed to make a change. And what my body needed more of was STRENGTH.
My rehab involved getting on the weight room floor and reuniting with my hips, glutes, hamstrings, and core. I needed to restore the power in my muscles to stabilize my joints. While yoga involves some bodyweight strength postures, it is not enough to balance out the muscles. To build real-world strength, you have to use real-world resistance. I worked with a coach. I did squats. I deadlifted. I swung kettle bells. My heart ached for yoga, but I worked to find my flow with the weights. The cross-training was what healed my injury and gave me the stability to eventually return to yoga without pain.
Working with weights has allowed me to build strength, bolster muscle awareness, and return to a pain free body. Now my goal is integrated movement, to work from a place of equal amounts of flexibility and strength. I have learned that flexibility without strength is out of balance, and strength without flexibility is too. Adding resistance training to my weekly routine has been a revelation. My body feels good. I have an ease of movement I’ve never had before. Best of all, I have reclaimed and retrained my BUTT muscle, which gives me the power to make everything better 🙂
Three years later I am happy to say I am able to do all the activities I love with ease, gratitude, and joy. I’ve returned to my yoga practice with a great deal of humility. I use props, bend my knees, and do a lot of standing poses. I no longer sink into every posture, I practice with my mind awake and my ears wide open.
And wouldn’t you know: yoga still has some surprises up its sleeve. Even though I’m returning to essentially same practice I left, my body feels radically different. Hamstrings are happy, low back is happy, and I continue to learn new things every day on the mat.
I wanted to share this story with you incase you are struggling with pain too. It took me 6 months to figure out why my hip hurt. I am thankful I had physical therapists, coaches, and teachers who helped enlighten me to my body’s unique structure. Everybody is different. Don’t ignore what you need or follow a cookie cutter approach – find OUT. Listen to your body and never stop learning how to take care of yourself. It’s an ongoing process but when you build body awareness, listen, and respect what you hear you can nurture your body for the rest of your life.
Are you a dancer, yogi, woman, or mover who has struggled with pain from being too bendy or needing stability? Leave your story as a comment below, Id love to hear from you. And please feel free to pass this post along to others, I know I would have LOVED having access to this information when I couldn’t figure out the cause of my pain. For more literature on Over-Stretching and Yoga Injury, check out these articles:
- Is Too Much Stretching Bad for You? Yoga Tune Up Takes You From Floppy to Fit. So incredibly grateful for Jill Miller and her powerful work.
- When Flexibility becomes a liability
- How To Avoid Hip Injuries From Yoga. Great modifications for all your favorite postures if you like to “sink into” your asanas.
- Yoga Poses That Can Hurt You.
- Expert Advice: How to Prevent Yoga Injuries with Strength Training
- Mobility WOD. Fantastic resource written by Doctor of Physical Therapy and CrossFit coach Kelly Starrett. MobilityWOD.com is a treasure trove of short videos on resolving pain, dealing with injury, and maximizing athletic potential. If you’ve had a question about a nagging workout-related ache or pain, there’s a good chance Starrett has video-blogged about it and can help you 🙂
Moral of the story : LISTEN to your body and move with intention, respect, and love. After all, its the only body you’ve got. Take care of it and enjoy movement for the rest of your life.
With lots of love,
DISCLAIMER: This post is my own personal experience and research on yoga and stretching related injuries. If you suspect you have an injury please seek advice and care from your doctor. Here to support you in living pain free in any way possible 🙂 Since writing this article I have received many emails and comments from others who have dealt with yoga injury or pain from too much stretching . I am here to support you in any way I can in finding pain free movement and taking care of your body. I hope my story serves you in living well and having healthy muscles.
Want to build a balanced body? Check out my book, Balanced Body Breakthrough and get your mind, body, and spirit in great shape so you can love your life.
Other Things To Check Out:
- ARMS ARMS ARMS. My free 8 minute youtube arm workout routine. Includes total body exercises for your arms and core.
- Foods and Supplements To Help Heal From a Bone Fracture or Injury
- Apple Cider Vinegar Detox Drink and Health Benefits.