YOGA CATCHING ON WITH YOUNG ATHLETES

Key Points:

  • Participation in yoga is increasing amongst all age groups in the United States
  • When done correctly, yoga has many benefits for young athletes in improving core strength, flexibility, and psychological benefits
  • Some poses may need to be avoided or modified if the athlete has some pre-existing medical conditions, such as avoiding lunges if you have Osgood-Schlatter syndrome

kids yogaVarious estimates of yoga participation in the United States appear to show increases in all age groups. It’s generally believed that the percentage of U.S. adults who said they practice yoga increased from 5.1 percent in 2002 to 9.5 percent in 2012, according to one survey conducted by the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Yoga participation amongst kids is also on the rise: the percentage of children ages 4 to 17 who do yoga increased from 2.3 percent in 2007 to 3.1 percent in 2012.

I’m generally a yoga fan, although there’s quite a bit of commercialism surrounding mainstream yoga. Yoga encourages balance, strength, proper posture, improved breathing, control, and awareness of one’s body, and has potential mental benefits as well. We are seeing some more injuries than we did several years ago, but with a few simple guidelines, many of these injuries can be prevented or limited. Additionally, when working with an experienced instructor, yoga may be helpful for injury recovery from numerous orthopaedic conditions such as common strains and sprains.

There are several types or disciplines of yoga. Not every form is friendly for beginners and some can be quite strenuous. Depending on your athleticism, fitness, flexibility, and conditioning as well as pre-existing medical conditions, you should choose a style that fits you well. You should also communicate your goals and needs with the instructor before embarking on a new program.

Injuries can be avoided by knowing your limitations. If you have pre-existing medical problems or extremity injuries, consult your physician or orthopaedic surgeon prior to starting or renewing a yoga program. Discuss any pre-existing conditions with the yoga instructor before starting a class. They may want you to avoid certain poses or positions.

Typically, injuries occur when participants attempt a challenging pose or posture without having the initial capability, flexibility, or strength to perform that maneuver or when the pose is performed improperly. In yoga, it is better to do a portion of the maneuver perfectly than to push from poor alignment into a full pose.

Two common areas for potential problems are with pre-existing conditions such as Osgood-Schlatter syndrome in the knee or Sever’s syndrome in the heel. If a young athlete has these conditions you’ll likely need to modify or avoid some poses, such as avoiding lunges.

With proper techniques and guidance yoga can be extremely rewarding both physically and mentally. Following this straightforward advice, injuries are unusual and the disciplines can be quite beneficial for core and postural strength, balance, and flexibility.

By Dev Mishra, M.D., President, Sideline Sports Doc, Clinical Assistant Professor of Orthopedic Surgery, Stanford University

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