Yoga & Bursitis

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Picture of a shoulder indicating an injury

Understanding, Preventing, and Managing the Condition Throughout Your Yoga Practice

Bursitis is a common but often overlooked injury that can affect both newbies to the practice and seasoned yogis. Together, we're going to dive deep into the anatomy of your shoulder, and bursitis, explore what factors contribute to it, and learn how to manage the pain and recover when it happens. Ready? Let’s go!

First, What is a Bursa Anyway?

A bursa is a fluid-filled sac that acts as a cushion and a gliding surface to reduce friction between tissues of the body. Imagine this: a ziplog bac filled with water located between joints to help ease and glide joint movement. You have several joints that have bursa sacs. The major bursae are near the larger joints in your body: your shoulders, elbows, hips, and knees. Some joints have several bursae and you have over 150 bursa sacs in your body.

Understanding Bursitis: What Is It Exactly? 

First, what is bursitis? Bursitis is a condition that involves the inflammation of the fluid-filled sacs (bursae), which act as natural cushions and reduce friction between your bones, tendons, and muscles. Bursitis often rears its head in joints such as the hip, shoulder, knee, and elbow, causing pain, stiffness, and reduced range of motion. It's the kind of uninvited guest that may show up while you practice any physical activity (in this case, yoga). 

What Factors Contribute to Bursitis: How Does It Happen? 

Here are a few culprits:

  • Overuse or Repetitive Stress: Engaging in yoga poses repeatedly with alignment that is not appropriate for your body or pushing your limits without giving your body the recovery it needs can sometimes lead to overuse injuries.
  • Alignment which is Less than Ideal: poses that bear your body weight, can place extra stress on your joints, which your body may not be prepared for and can, in some cases, lead to bursitis.
  • Age and Health: As you gracefully age, your bursae may become less resilient, and pre-existing medical conditions, like arthritis, can pave the way for your bursae to become inflamed. 

Preventive Measures: How to Keep Bursitis at Bay 

There are some preventative measures you can take:

  • Take a look at your alignment: I am not a stickler for one form of alignment. “Proper” alignment looks different in different bodies. Understanding what alignment suits you in each pose can make a big difference in your practice and how you feel going forward.
  • Graded exposure: Slow and steady wins the race. Avoid overtraining, and allow your body time to adapt to new poses and increased intensity.
  • Warm-Up and Cool-Down: Always begin your practice with a gentle warm-up and wind it down with a cool-down session. This not only prepares your joints for movement, but it helps you increase awareness of your body, notice what you’re feeling on any given day, and decide whether you want to take a more chill approach to your practice. 
  • Use Props: When you incorporate props into your practice that can be used as tools to help you increase or decrease the amount of work on your body. Typically people think of props for students who need “help” but they are so very helpful in the practice. Instead of shying away from yoga props like blocks and straps use them to assist you in poses, help reduce stress on your joints, and effectively support your practice. 
  • Listen to Your Body: Your body is your best guide. Pay close attention to any discomfort or pain during your practice and never push through it. Instead, back off and do what feels right for you, no matter what.  

What to Do When Bursitis is Your Diagnosis 

Unfortunately, even with all the preventive measures in place, bursitis can still find a way into your yoga journey. When you suspect you're dealing with this or any other persistent shoulder pain, you need to take the right steps:

  • Rest: Give the affected joint some much-needed time off. Take a break from your regular yoga practice to let it heal.
  • Ice: Applying ice to the inflamed area can work wonders. While it helps reduce pain and swelling, ice will not heal the injury. It can, however, signal to your brain that you are safe and not in danger. Which signals your nervous system to regulate - necessary in pain reduction and injury recovery. 
  • Anti-Inflammatory Medication: Over-the-counter pain relievers and anti-inflammatories can provide temporary relief while you recover.​​ These should be used temporarily as consistent use can have other unintended effects in your organs. 
  • Consult a Professional: If the pain persists or worsens, it's crucial to consult a healthcare professional. They can help to provide a proper diagnosis and suggest treatment based on your diagnosis. 

Treatment Options for Bursitis: Can you Get Back on Your Yoga Mat? 

Your healthcare professional may offer one or more of the following to aid in your recovery journey.

  • Physical Therapy: A skilled physical therapist can make all the difference in the world. They'll teach you exercises designed to target the affected joint, reduce pain, and improve its range of motion.
  • Corticosteroid Injections: In some cases, your healthcare professional may recommend corticosteroid injections to reduce inflammation and speed up the healing process.
  • Modifications in your Yoga Practice: You may need to adjust your yoga practice to accommodate your injury. This means avoiding poses that can exacerbate the condition. Your physical therapist can help you with this, or a skilled yoga teacher with a background in biomechanics, an understanding of injuries, and effective recovery strategies. 
  • Surgical Intervention: In rare cases, surgery may be necessary. This could involve removing damaged bursae or correcting underlying structural issues. Again, an in-depth conversation with your healthcare provider is key. 

Making Your Way Back to A Regular Yoga Practice 

As you navigate your way through bursitis, it's essential to have the right tools at your disposal:

  • Start Slow: You may want to consider taking different types of yoga classes. For instance, Restorative or Yin yoga can help you re-enter your practice and slow down enough to feel what your body is experiencing during class. 
  • Yoga Props: Blocks, straps, and bolsters are your trusty sidekicks. They are a necessary addition to help support your practice.
  • Realize When Too Much is Too Much: many students push the limits in their yoga practice as a way to see growth and feel accomplished. Is this you? Right now, it’s important that you change how you view your practice and look at it as one that is there to help you become more aware of yourself, your limitations, your reactions & self-talk while you recover from bursitis. 
  • Remember Various Yoga Practices: The physical practice of yoga is just one option. Think about exploring meditation or pranayama as supplemental practices while you heal. 

Questions to Consider 

When you have Bursitis and want to Practice Yoga consider these essential questions:

  • Can I prevent bursitis in my yoga practice?
  • What are some common signs and symptoms of bursitis?
  • Can I continue practicing yoga with bursitis, and if so, how?
  • How can physical therapy assist me in the treatment of bursitis?
  • Will there be any long-term effects from bursitis on my yoga practice?

Finding Balance in your yoga Practice when you’re Healing from an Injury 

I enjoy writing these articles for you so that you have more information when it comes to your yoga practice and speaking to your healthcare provider. A more informed student/patient is better as you’ll be able to make knowledgeable decisions going forward.  If you have ever experienced bursitis I’d love to hear about it! As always, if this article helped you or you have further questions please comment below, and let’s continue the conversation! 

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Monica Bright is a Yoga/Movement/Biomechanics Teacher, Anatomy/ Injury/Pain Educator, Certified Yoga Tune Up® Teacher Yoga & Self-Care Retreat Leader Reiki Practitioner.

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Monica Bright is a Yoga/Movement/Biomechanics Teacher, Anatomy/ Injury/Pain Educator, Certified Yoga Tune Up® Teacher Yoga & Self-Care Retreat Leader Reiki Practitioner.

Join Our Newsletter