Yoga & Injury Incidence

Injuries related to a physical yoga practice is a topic wildly discussed. Some yoga teachers are getting more restrictive with what they are teaching. Some are not. But before we jump on to conclusions about how to target these issues, let’s have a look at how common injuries are.

The numbers of people practicing yoga is steadily increasing. According to Yoga Journal & Yoga Alliance’s (2016) report the number in the U.S. is now 36 million. These are up compared to 20.4 million in 2012s.

A newly released study (Swain & McGwin, 2016) points out the increasing numbers of injuries related to yoga. It's a descriptive epidemiology study. They’ve used data from the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System (NEISS) in the U.S.. There were 29,590 yoga-related injuries registered between 2001 to 2014. This was in hospital emergency departments.


Injury incidence

These were the main findings (Swain & McGwin, 2016):

  • The overall injury rate went from 9.55 per 100,000 participants in 2001 to 17.01 per 100,000 participants in 2014.
  • Sprain/strain was the most common diagnosis (45.03%).
  • The most injured body part was the trunk (46.6%) and lower limb (21.9%).
  • The group with most frequent injuries was 65 years and older. Their injuries increased from 18.41 injuries per 100,000 to 57.91 injuries per 100,000 in 2014. In the study they explain that the high rate of injury amongst those 65 years and older could be explained by biological changes associated with aging.

For more data go to the study, click here. You’ll also find the link among the references.


The risk of fear mongering

I believe that we should take the increased numbers of injuries related to yoga seriously and work to decrease this number.

Still, yoga is a very safe physical practice if you compare it to other types of recreational activities. As an example, the overall injury rate for recreational activitives was 177.3 per 100, 000 injuries among individuals older than 64 years in U.S. in 2001. This data was also provided by the NEISS-All Injury Program (Gerson and Stevens, 2004).

The benefits will still outweigh the risks, both with yoga and other recreational activities.


The benefits will still outweigh the risks.


Being smarter about your practice

Yes, we should discuss injuries and how to deal with their presence. Especially we should dive deeper into what the major causes for injuries are in yoga. Until we know more, we can tailor our yoga practice for our specific purposes. Whether that’s flexibility, health, stress reduction, meditation, or something else. We can be smart about our practice and choose the techniques we work with wisely. Also, using accepted principles from exercise physiology and biomechanics.


About the conclusion

It’s great that we get more numbers on yoga related topics such as injury rates. Although, I react when I see the references. The Wall Street Journal and a blogpost makes up a big part of the discussion. This is also what half of the conclusion is based upon. The only conclusion that can be made out of this study are the NEISS numbers. This is an important piece of the puzzle in tracking yoga-related issues. We should start to discuss the story behind the numbers, but we know too little as it is now to claim any explanation.

As always, the definition of the term "yoga" wasn't stated.

A few questions I would like to find out more about would be:

  • What is the incidence and prevalence data on yoga injuries amongst yoga teachers?

  • Does the more education a yoga teacher have necessarily bring down the numbers among their students?

  • At what specific moment does one get injured in yoga? And what’s the major impacting factor?


What does this mean?

Great that the numbers of yoga injuries are starting to get studied. We should always aim to keep them as low as possible.

Keep on moving people, the benefits will still outweigh the risks. Move well and stay inline with your needs and your abilities.


Gerson L.W., Stevens J.A. (2004). Recreational injuries among older Americans, 2001. Inj Prev. 2004 Jun;10(3):134-8.

Swain T A. and McGwin G. (2016). Yoga-Related Injuries in the United States From 2001 to 2014. Orthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine. Vol 4, Issue 11. DOI:10.1177/2325967116671703

Yoga Journal & Yoga Alliance. (2016). Yoga in America 2016 - Study conducted by Yoga Journal & Yoga Alliance. Published the 13th of January 2016.

ResearchSara Hoy