Practising Through Pain and Injury in Yoga

Many athletes and many athletic yogis who experience pain believe that they should keep right on with what they are doing, and hope that the pain will eventually disappear. This is very short-sighted, especially if pain is not associated with a specific injury.

Pain without a specific injury is often a sign of muscle imbalance. In yoga, muscle imbalance can develop quite easily, if a set practise is followed for a long time, or if a particular practise emphasises existing strengths and no effort is made to practise asanas which challenge weaker parts of the body. Muscle imbalance occurs through a process of Reciprocal Inhibition – please refer to Reciprocal Inhibition and Hips for an explanation of this process – or through faulty alignment, which can have a variety of causes.

If you are recovering from an injury, it’s very important not to practise through pain, because pain you feel is a sign that the muscle is not yet up to the task, and what can happen is that the body will stop using the painful muscle, and substitute synergist muscles which normally assist to create the necessary movement. Synergists can perform the same movements, but do so less efficiently, and the body then learns this movement pattern, and will not change it back, unless it is retrained to do so.

Muscle imbalances are caused this way and in the long run, and injury usually happens as a result of faulty movement habits: those in a hurry to return to where they left off might find themselves taking a very long detour into poor function and pain, which could have been avoided if pain was not ignored when it first occurred, or not enough time was allowed for an injury to heal.

Reading sources:
Cook, 2003, Athletic Body in Balance
Ellenbecker, De Carlo, DeRosa, 2009, Effective Functional Progressions in Sport Rehabilitation