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Interview: Yoga not as safe as people once thought, says expert

by Will Koulouris

SYDNEY, June 28 (Xinhua) -- Yoga is one of the fastest growing sports in Australia and worldwide, but new research released on Wednesday suggests that it is not as safe as previously believed.

The joint study conducted by the University of Sydney and the Mercy College in New York has found that 10 percent of people who practice yoga experience musculoskeletal pain, while 21 percent of those studied experience further pain to existing injuries.

According to a 2016 Roy Morgan poll, yoga, which originated in ancient India, is Australia's fastest growing sporting or fitness activity, with over two million Australians participating regularly, and with the number of females who take part topping out at 15 percent of the population.

But one of the authors of the study which looked at injury rates for those who practice yoga, Associate Prof. Evangelos Pappas from the University of Sydney's Faculty of Health Sciences, told Xinhua on Wednesday that his study was the first time that the risks of participating in the fitness activity have been outlined.

"We just wanted to objectively assess the benefits of yoga in terms of musculoskeletal pain, as well as the risks," Pappas said.

"Our study found that the incidence of pain caused by yoga is more than 10 percent per year, which is comparable to the injury rate of all sports injuries combined among the physically active population, however people consider it to be a very safe activity."

The new data shows that the injury rate for those who practice yoga is almost 10 times higher than what has been previously reported, and the expert believes that more interaction is needed between those in the yoga community and medical experts.

"Our study highlights the importance of very open and honest communication within the triangle of the yoga practitioner, the yoga teacher, and health care professionals," Pappas said.

"I think the safety of yoga will improve if these communication lines become more open and accessible, as a physiotherapist I rarely get a phone call from a yoga teacher to ask me about the patients that I have discharged."

The practicing of yoga requires many complicated and strenuous poses, and the study found that many of the injuries involved were isolated to the "upper extremities" of the patients (hands, elbows, wrists, shoulders), and suggested this could be due to the weight that is being placed on the limbs.

Pappas made it clear however, that yoga is still a very effective tool to be used in conjunction with other therapies for the relief of injuries and pain, and that he hopes his study will simply highlight the inherent risks of yoga practice, as you would see in any other sport.

"It's not all bad news, 74 percent of participants in the study reported that existing pain was improved by yoga, highlighting the complex relationship between musculoskeletal pain and yoga practice,"

"These findings can be useful for clinicians and individuals to compare the risks of yoga to other exercise enabling them to make informed decisions about which types of activity are best," the expert said.


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