Is It Worth It To Screen Yoga Students For Injuries?


October 26, 2021     injury | Yoga Research

Should teachers screen new yoga students for injuries?

Research Study At A Glance

The Research Question Asked

Can instructors reduce yoga injuries by conducting screenings with new students?

Type of Study

Cross-sectional web-based survey design

Study Participants (Sample)

  • Sample size: 373 total participants
  • 339 female; 30 male
  • The mean age was 45.4 ± 12.4
  • Mean length of yoga teaching experience was 9.6 ± 7.6 years

Methods

Yoga instructors completed a survey which asked whether or not they screen new yoga students for certain medical conditions, physical symptoms, or physical performance characteristics. Yoga teachers also answered questions about their teaching experience, style of yoga taught, and student injuries witnessed in their classes. The researchers then looked at relationships between teaching methods and yoga injuries.

Results

A majority of instructors (81.7%) indicated that they do screen new yoga students for physical symptoms. But only 33.7% said they do medical screenings. Even fewer, only 8.8%, reported that they do physical performance screenings. The researchers did not find a specific relationship between the number of injuries that yoga teachers reported in their classes and whether or not they screen new yoga students.

Conclusion

The study was inconclusive regarding whether student screenings by yoga instructors directly reduced yoga injuries.

Learn a system for working with injuries

Background

The popularity of yoga continues to grow, both as a complementary health practice and as a leisure activity. As the number of people taking part in yoga grows, so does the number of practitioners experiencing an injury. One reason for the greater number of injuries is the simple fact that more people are doing yoga. As with any other physical activity, sometimes despite our best intentions, we tweak something. But, are there things we can do to reduce the chances of a yoga injury? At YogAnatomy, we did our own research a few years ago to contribute some answers to that question. You can find our results HERE.

This research study looked at a slightly different aspect of yoga injury. They were curious about the relationship between yoga injuries and yoga instructor training. Additionally, they wanted to know whether there was a relationship between yoga injuries and whether yoga instructors did a physical screening and assessment with new students. There is a wide range in content and quality of yoga teacher trainings. This research team was curious to learn how many yoga teachers are trained to do a physical screening for new students while in their teacher training program. They wanted to know, when yoga instructors do screen new yoga students, does this reduce the injury rate among their students?

Research question

Can instructors reduce yoga injuries by conducting screenings with new students?

Research methods

Study participants (sample):

  • 373 total participants
  • 339 female; 30 male
  • Mean age was 45.4 ± 12.4
  • The mean length of yoga teaching experience was 9.6 ± 7.6 years
  • Mean length of yoga practice experience was 17.2 ± 9.8 years

The study examined survey responses of 373 yoga instructors from the Northeastern United States. The research team contacted yoga studios as well as individual yoga instructors throughout the Northeastern U.S. about taking part in their project. They specifically looked for experienced yoga teachers who had completed a teacher training program. Yoga instructors who agreed to take part in the study then completed a 57-item online questionnaire.

The research team designed the questionnaire to examine five main areas: demographics, yoga teaching experience, prescreening efforts of the instructor, style of yoga taught, and student injuries witnessed in their classes. Specifically, the prescreening portion of the questionnaire asked respondents to indicate whether or not they screen new yoga students for certain medical conditions, physical symptoms, or physical performance characteristics.

If participants marked “yes” to any of the three categories, then the questionnaire asked further questions. More detailed questions about medical condition screening included questions about whether instructors took vital signs or conducted the American College of Sports Medicine’s exercise participation screening, for example. Additional questions about screening for physical symptoms included questions regarding things like experiences of pain or swelling. Further questions about physical performance characteristics asked about things like flexibility and joint range of motion assessments. Finally, the questionnaire asked participants whether they continued to adhere to what they learned in their teacher training program when they taught yoga.

Results

Survey respondents primarily indicated that the yoga styles they taught were vinyasa (44.1%) or hatha (24.4%). A much smaller percentage of respondents indicated that they taught Ashtanga (2.6%), Bikram (2.9%), Yin (1.2%), Iyengar (2.6%), Kripalu (7.6%), Kundalini (1.8%), or something else (12.6%). Instructors indicated that they spent more of their class time teaching asana than other aspects of yoga. Mean time spent in asana was 42.66 ± 27.93. Most instructors said that they included sun salutations in their classes (83.6%). About one quarter of yoga teachers said they had seen students get injured in their classes (24.7%).

A majority of instructors indicated that they do screen new yoga students for physical symptoms (81.7%). About a third said they do medical screenings with new students (33.7%). The fewest number of instructors indicated that they do physical performance screenings with new students (8.8%).

The researchers did not find a specific relationship between number of injuries that yoga teachers reported in their classes and whether or not they did screenings with new students. Yoga teachers who indicated that they adhered to what they learned in their training program did report fewer injuries in their classes. But, concerningly, 78% of respondents said they do not follow what they learned in their yoga teacher training program when they are teaching. Interestingly, yoga instructors who included sun salutations in their classes also saw fewer injuries in their classes.

Why is this relevant to yoga practitioners?

If we are doing asana when we do yoga, then we’re doing movement. And with any kind of movement, there is some risk of injury. As we’ve written about in other articles, the overall risk of injury in yoga is pretty low compared to many other kinds of movement and sports. But we’d still like to avoid injury at all, if possible. So research that examines how we can minimize that injury risk even further is important.

Every person who shows up to a yoga class is an individual with a specific history of habits, leisure activities, accidents, and work activities. And they have a particular body, age, and general health status. It makes sense that having procedures in place for assessing new students would help reduce yoga injuries. The more you know about someone, the better able you are to tailor the practice to them. Screening new students has other benefits as well, like simply learning about the student so that you can best fit the practice to their situation and interests. While this is always a part of how I teach and is easily worked in to small group classes, instructors of larger classes may have to be more intentional about making that a priority.

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Conclusion

Some risk of injury goes along with doing any kind of movement. Yoga is no exception. But we still want to minimize that risk as much as possible. Having a conversation with new students when they begin our classes is one simple way to learn more about a student’s history. And that can help inform us how best to adapt a yoga class to individual students and reduce injuries.

Reference citation

Lein, D.H. Jr., H. Singh, and S. Kim. 2020. Are screening by yoga instructors and their practice patterns important to prevent injuries in yoga clients? Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice. 40:101196.

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