Sprained, Strained, or Pained
The degree of damage determines what level of care is required to support healing. If a muscle, ligament, or tendon is torn completely apart, that body part won't usually function: A person won't be able to raise the arm overhead with a torn rotator cuff muscle, or walk on a knee with a torn ligament. Surgery will be needed to pull the separated ends back together and attach them securely, and a lengthy rehabilitation period usually follows the surgery.
If the damage is mild or moderate, without a major or complete tear, the treatment plan isn't as clear-cut and requires more judgment on the part of professional caregivers, yoga teachers, and the body's owner. Here are a few guidelines for yoga teachers, so students can get all the benefits of coming to class without exacerbating an injury. These suggestions should be followed during the acute phase, when the injury is still painful and inflamed (red, swollen, and hot), which may last a few days with a mild condition or a few weeks or even months with a more serious injury.
What's the bottom line for your yoga students? Encourage them to listen to their bodies and make choices that will lead them toward health and wholeness, not repeated and chronic injuries. Don't urge them to push into or "work through" pain, especially in an injured area. And finally, teachers you need to know that stretching isn't a panacea for every musculoskeletal problem—sometimes stretching can make an injury worse. Sometimes a period of stillness, to allow the body's innate healing process to take over, is just what the doctor ordered.
Julie Gudmestad is a certified Iyengar Yoga teacher and licensed physical therapist who runs a combined yoga studio and physical therapy practice in Portland, Oregon. She enjoys integrating her Western medical knowledge with the healing powers of yoga to help make the wisdom of yoga accessible to all.
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