How to Avoid Common Yoga Injuries: Spine, Wrists & Hamstrings

by | Updated: September 21st, 2020 | Read time: 3 minutes

Practicing yoga can help you become a better version of yourself, physically and mentally.

But that won’t happen if you force your body to do things it shouldn’t. In fact, if you don’t pay attention to whether movements make sense for your unique anatomy, you’ll be on a path to pain instead of enlightenment.

Woman Practicing Cobra Pose to Avoid Yoga Injury |

That means, for instance, if you haven’t developed the flexibility for a very bendy pose, it’s a bad idea to go for it anyway. Logic and knowledge of your body (you know it better than anyone) will tell you when to back off. Commit to listening.

Sometimes, though, it’s not clear whether a pose could injure you. This is especially true for more basic moves that practitioners repeat a lot – forward bends, for example.

Below are a few physical areas particularly vulnerable to yoga asana practice, along with tips on modifying common poses that can cause trouble.


Most flow, or vinyasa, classes (among the most popular types of classes) include lots of standing forward bends and include seated forward bends, both of which stretch the hamstrings. Do enough of them, and over time you’re likely to aggravate tendons, which attach your muscles to your bones. When that happens you’ll feel a tight or cramp-like sensation (if not searing pain) under your buttock or even inside it.

How to protect yourself

Do fewer forward bends.

Physically, that’s easy advice to follow. Mentally, practitioners feel compelled to keep doing forward bends because the teacher cues them.

Try this instead: To skip a standing forward bend but still transition to plank or downward dog (a typical sequence in flow practice), simply squat, place your hands down shoulder-width apart, and then step back to plank or downward dog. Or instead of squatting, modify your forward bend by bending your knees.

For seated forward bend, put rolled blankets or a bolster under your knees and hinge your torso forward only slightly.

Spine: Neck and Low Back

The neck is the most flexible part of the spine, followed by the lower back. That means you can move them around more easily than other parts of the spine (read: push their limits), so they are prone to injury.

How to protect yourself

Keep your neck in a neutral position, as opposed to straining to lift your head high, in poses such as cobra or upward dog. Likewise, don’t mindlessly drop your head way back. And your head should bear very little weight in a more advanced pose like headstand, so that you don’t compress your cervical vertebra—your forearms are your primary base.

Low back
Start with the simplest version of backbends during each practice: a few baby cobras, then move to cobra and, perhaps, to upward dog.

The key with backbends is lengthening your lower back and distributing the arch throughout your spine. In cobras a good way to do this (while prone with your forehead down) is by pressing the front of your hip bones into the mat and trying to reach your tailbone toward your heels, then reaching your crown ahead—all before lifting to the backbend.


Any pose that puts weight on your palms, especially if it bends your wrists back, puts pressure on your wrists, narrowing the carpal tunnel: upward dog, plank and crow, to name a few. Downward dog can aggravate wrists over time too. If you have carpal tunnel syndrome it’s a good idea to back off these poses, particularly if you feel pain. Do poses that use your forearms instead: dolphin for downward dog and cobra for upward dog. That said, you might be able to use the modification below and still practice them.

How to protect yourself

Stretch your fingers first, gently pulling them back and curling them in toward your wrists. Then roll your wrists, and flex and extend them a few times.

When you practice problematic poses, take weight out of the heels of your hands and transfer it to your fingers by pressing through the knuckles. This also builds strength in your arms and back, a two-for-one benefit!

Learn more about yoga instructor and journalist Mitra Malek at