Top 10 Sports-Related Injuries and Yoga Poses to Avoid Them

Gwen Lawrence by Gwen Lawrence | April 12th, 2012 | 2 Comments
topic: Fitness, Yoga

Yoga for Sports Injuries

The most common reason for sports-related injuries — whether you’re a recreational athlete or a pro, from ages 10-80 — is overuse and abuse. In my experience, most injuries arise when athletes disconnect from their bodies. Their eyes are on perfection, or the competition.

It follows that the best prevention is to become acutely aware of your body — its shape, its symmetry, how it feels, the range in the joints. Many sports can create asymmetries in the body because they are one-side dominant (think of swinging a baseball bat or golf club or tennis racket). It’s your job to recognize these imbalances before they become injuries. To help you, I’ve identified the top 10 most common sports-related injuries and given you a few yoga poses for athletes to to help correct the imbalances and asymmetries that cause them.

Hip pain

Most hip pain is due to a lot of stop-and-go movements, as in soccer; jarring moves, as in tennis; and pounding the ground, as in running. The simplest way to avoid hip injuries is to keep the hips open in all directions, loose and free.

Before you do these poses, lay on your back and relax completely. Release your legs and let them flop apart. Slowly lift your head without changing the positioning of your legs and take note as to the angle your toes are pointing: Do they point in the same direction? Is one hip totally lax, sending the other foot straight up to the sky? Usually the hip of the foot pointed straight up is the tighter one, and the one in need of the most attention.

Yoga poses for hips:

  • Pigeon Pose
  • Frog Pose
  • Hero Pose
  • Standing Forward Bend

Hamstring pulls

It’s pretty clear that most hamstring pulls result from tight hamstrings! This muscle group — and it is a group, not a single muscle — is a source of pain and frustration for many athletes. The hamstring muscles are so strong and thick that it takes diligence and time to open them up. It won’t happen overnight, but it’s well worth the time it takes!

Yoga poses for hamstrings:

  • Standing Forward Bend with bent knees to protect the back
  • Wall Lean Standing Forward Bend
  • Plow Pose
  • Straddle Forward Bend

Knee injuries

Everyone knows someone who has had knee surgery —maybe even yourself! The best way to avoid ACL, MCL and meniscus trouble is to keep the hips flexible and strong. Think about it: If your hips are stiff and can’t move or rotate to their full potential, the energy will go to the spot of least resistance — which is always the very vulnerable, very complex knee joint.

Yoga poses for knees:

  • Pigeon Pose
  • Pigeon Pose with quad stretch
  • Double Pigeon Pose
  • Frog Pose
  • IT Band series

Shoulder pain

The shoulder is another vulnerable joint, built very much like the hip joint but much more shallow. This characteristic makes it a prime target for misalignments, dislocations and impingement. That makes it doubly  important to warm up your shoulders properly before any workout, and then strengthen them as well as stretch them for maximum power.

Yoga poses for shoulders:

  • Wall Walks
  • Face Down Shoulder Stretch
  • Face Up Shoulder Stretch
  • Eagle arms
  • Wrist Openers
  • Chaturanga/Plank
  • Arm-Ups

Lower back pain

The most common reason for pain, stiffness and limited range of motion in the lower back is tight hamstrings. Since the hamstrings originate on the sit bones, if the hamstrings are tight they pull down on the pelvis, tipping it incorrectly and forcing you to constantly compensate in order to stay upright. Another reason for lower back pain is weakness in the abdominals. Here are some yoga poses to strengthen and protect your low back.

Yoga poses for lower back:

  • Seated Forward Bend
  • Wall Lean Forward Bend
  • Seated Twists
  • Seated Leg Cross Twist
  • Boat/Boat Pull-Ins
  • Forearm Plank Hold

Wrist problems

Whether it’s carpal tunnel syndrome or a sprain from a fall, athletes are always susceptible to wrist injuries. Offensive linemen put all their weight behind them, soccer players land on them, and tennis players bank on their strength. It’s important to maintain strong forearms as well. One indication that you are having forearm flexor or extensor problems is to take a good look at your hands in Downward Dog before you fix them: Notice if two fingers are stuck together or if there is nice equal space between each finger.

Yoga poses for wrists:

  • Plank Wrist Turns
  • Downward Dog Holds/Three Point Variations
  • Handstands
  • Chaturanga/Upward-Facing Dog

Foot problems

Ankle sprains, Achilles tendonitis and plantar fasciitis (pain on the bottom of the foot) are the next three most common injuries. I group them together because the power yoga poses to do to avoid these issues are the same. You need to develop strong, flexible ankles; open, flexible toes; and improved balance.

Yoga poses for feet:

  • Hero Pose — toes tucked
  • Hero Pose — toes untucked
  • Tree Pose
  • Squats
  • Half Side Squats
  • Warrior Three Pose

Neck pain

The neck is probably the most at-risk spot on the body. The neck of an athlete especially needs great care. Full rotation means being able to fight off a defender on the basketball court, or turn your head towards a 95-mile-an-hour fastball. A flexible neck will help you roll out of a compromised wrestling position, or absorb the shock of a full tackle.

  • Plow Pose — legs straight and bent
  • Headstand
  • Rabbit Pose
  • Supine Spinal Twist
  • Upward-Facing Dog with full neck extension
  • Bow Pose

You should always research a qualified yoga instructor to lead you through the poses, as well as get permission from your doctor before beginning any yoga program, especially if you are practicing with an injury.

Practice yoga with Gwen Lawrence on!


  1. Not so sure I agree with all these — they might be good to do to avoid getting the injury in the first place, but if you have a neck injury, headstand isn’t a pose I would start to practice to get over it. This is backed up by both my osteopath and my chiropractor. Also, not so sure of seated forward bend for low back pain — I always find that strains my low back when I’m flared up in that space. I’d love to see us not use sweeping generalities in yoga therapeutics and emphasize working on a case by case basis with a qualified teacher — someone who has a substantial training in this based on years of experience.

    Kathy O'Rourke | April 12th, 2012 | Comment Permalink
  2. I agree with above comment. For knee pain, always bend the knees and use the core. Incorporating breath work is essential- use deep inhalations to expand and lift the ribs. You must evenly distribute weight over arches. DO NOT DO TWISTS FOR BACK PAIN. If you fold forward, standing and seated, bend knees and always support yourself (block, ground, hand to knee, etc.) DO NOT DO PIGEON IF YOU HAVE AN MCL injury, it WILL aggravate it.

    Kim | March 31st, 2014 | Comment Permalink

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