We speak to an injury management specialist about how to get over those nasty twinges.
As a yoga teacher I often see that one of the most common reasons students come to the mat is to better understand their bodies, and how they can manage niggling injuries and pain.. From students that have picked up interesting compensation patterns from years of being human, to those whose bodies really don’t agree with being hunched over a computer screen all day.
No matter how healthy and fit we strive to be, nobody is immune to the odd injury here and there.
More and more I am seeing healthcare professionals like Physiotherapists and Osteopaths recommend yoga as a way for their patients to progressively and safely manage their injuries.
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While movement is undoubtedly great for our physical and mental well-being, the idea that we should push through, or ignore an injury is not healthy. Exercising with an injury can lead to future issues for many people, so it’s always best to catch and manage them as early as we can, with advice from our team of supporters!
However, for some of the most common injuries there are some simple myofascial release techniques that are fantastic DIY strategies to help alleviate and assist and with persistent pains.
#1 Ankle sprains
Ankle sprains can happen for a range of reasons. Sometimes through exercise, sometimes just a trip or fall!. Any injured ankle needs to be rested and raised initially. When ready I like to use simple myofascial release techniques on surrounding tissues of the calf to encourage gentle hydration into the area, though not on the sprain itself.
You’ll need a yoga block, or hardback book and a MFR ball or tennis ball. Sit down on your mat or the ground, making sure you’re comfortable, and place the ball in the dense part of the calf muscle, and supporting yourself with arms allow the calf muscle to slowly compress the tissue. You can heighten this by flexing and pointing the toes, slowly paying attention as you go. Our nervous system responds to this when we slow it down, so less can be more!!
#2 Rotator Cuff issues
The rotator cuff is made up of four muscles and supports the stability of the shoulder joint itself.
Issues here can be common in many types of people. Think about how often you take your arms overhead just in one yoga class. , . There are several techniques we can use here but one of my favourites to begin with is myofascial release on the infraspinatus, a key muscle in external rotation of the upper arm bone, the muscle which covers the back of the shoulder blade.
Take one ball and stand by a wall or solid structure. Hold the ball in one hand and feed it under the opposite arm pit until you can secure the ball between the muscular layer on the back of the scapula and the wall. With a little bend in the knees, start by gently rolling on the surface of the scapula.
Find one spot that feels tender, in the same way a massage may feel at the start and stay for five deep breaths. You can also explore moving that arm slowly and noticing if this changes the sensation. Do both sides and pause for a moment in between to notice any small changes in the tissues. Pause between side and notice, maybe with eyes closed if that feels safe to you. You can add some gentle arms circles too to see what feels more spacious.
#3 Shin splints
Shin splints are the worst! They can be brought on from high impact training, and particularly running. Please stay away from those pavements!
When I work with students who have shin splints I focus on three things: opening up hamstrings, as if they are tight they can put more pressure around joints, and adding strengthening work for both calf muscles, and the hip abductor group. Collectively this strength gives more support to the leg.
To work on hip abductor and calf muscles, take a wide squat stance (think sumo squat position) and bend your knees ensuring that your hips don’t go lower than your knees. Press your hands to your inner thighs and resist with your leg. Then staying in the bent knee position, place your hands on your hips and with a long spine, lift one heel at a time, going side to side slowly. Repeat 5 to 10 times each side.
#4 Lower back pain
This can be complex, and for many reasons. We can have a tender low back from sitting for long periods of time, imbalances, genetics or even ,from disc issues (make sure you are seeing your health care provider for these types of things, don’t assume!). Ensure you have clearance from your physio or doctor and are working to suit your needs.
There are many things we can look at here, but one thing I like to work with first is the thoracolumbar facia, which is a large and tough layer of connective tissue spanning the lower back.
Standing at a wall, take your foam roller into the curve of your lower back. Lean in with enough pressure to feel some feedback and bend your knees so you can slowly move up and down on the roller covering this entire area for about a minute. If this feels comfortable and releasing you can place one MFR ball in the same spot, the deepest part of your lumbar curve tracing the bundles of muscle on either side of your spine.
You can gently roll up and down the wall using the balls to release the erectors and create some further space. Make sure the balls are not on the spine itself, but the muscular layers you can feel with your fingers to each side.
#5 Managing stress with breath work
Pranayama techniques, or breath work, are amazing at alleviating our most common ailment, stress. A simple yet powerful one you can try to help assist with downregulation, is bhramari (known as humming bee breath). It puts emphasis on the exhalation, and works with our body’s natural process which decreases heart rate during this process.
For this technique come to a comfortable seated position or you can lay down if this feels safer for you at this time. Try and loosen tension from key areas that you hold it in. You can practice this with eyes softly open or closed, but try and bring yourself to an introspective space of attention. Feel your body as it lands in that moment, notice your natural breath.
Try to balance the length of your inhale and exhale without creating restrictions. As you feel ready, begin to create a humming sound with your exhalation, but keep your mouth closed. Continue for as many breaths as you like. Bask in the vibratory sense. When you’re finished with this, take a moment to return to your natural rhythm of breathing.
Take your focus to the part of your body you are healing or where you are working with pain in, and visualise it healthy, vibrant and pain free. acknowledge yourself for taking time to give yourself this self care.
Vicki Smart is a senior yoga teacher at BodyMindLife in Surry Hills, Sydney. She is also the facilitator of Injury Management and Therapeutics Teacher Training.