Every year, 8.6 million sports and recreational injuries are reported. For professional athletes and sports competitors, there are over 2,000 injuries per every 10,000 workers, according to the Department of Labor Statistics. While many athletes may accept and even anticipate experiencing injury while playing their sport, very few have considered the grueling recovery process and the toll it can take – physically, mentally, and emotionally.
For athletes who are eager to get back into the game and improve their recovery process, practicing yoga as a part of the physical rehabilitation program can not only speed up their recovery process, but also help them to recover mentally after a sports injury and reduce their chances of getting reinjured once they return to the sport.
Yoga Can Help Loosen Tight Muscles And Reduce Chances Of Reinjury
If you have been recovering from an injury, the chances are that the affected muscles will be tight. Tight muscles are much more prone to re-injury like muscle tears or strain. This is one of the reasons it is strongly recommended that athletes stretch and warm-up before their activities. Regularly practicing yoga helps to improve the flexibility of those muscles, making them less likely to be reinjured once the athletes return to training and sports.
Yoga can also help in improving athletes agility and balance. If you have been recovering from a sports injury for a prolonged period, you may find that your balance is affected when you initially return to training. This makes you vulnerable to falls or missteps. However, yoga poses like the Mountain Chair Free Flow, Big Toe Crescent Eagle Flow, and Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana B can all help athletes improve their balance and coordination power. This is particularly applicable to sports where flexibility and agility are essential to performance and safety, such as surfing, basketball, soccer, or track and field. The improved flexibility and agility benefits that yoga gives to surfers means surfing or water sport athletes returning from injury can maintain their stability and optimal posture in the water.
Practicing Yoga Helps With Joint Alignment
Practicing yoga is often recommended for those that struggle with arthritis, joint pain, and poor posture issues. That is because yoga can improve joint alignment, thus reducing pain from your injury or stiff joints. Variations like hot or Bikram yoga can help athletes loosen up stiff joints that may develop from weeks of inactivity post-injury. Also, with better alignment, athletes can improve their balance, reducing their chances of further injuries once they do return to their sport.
Yoga Restores Balance To Your Body And Your Mind
Many athletes grapple with mental health, both on and off the field. When recovering from injury, the chances of mental health incidences like anxiety and depression are magnified. Many athletes admit to feeling anxious about their recovery progress and their performance once they do return to the sport. As a result, athletes can find themselves mentally unprepared to return to the game. Their mental struggles can also hinder their physical recovery, including their ability to sleep well or eat a healthy diet – both of which are key to optimal recovery from injury.
However, many sports athletes are now using yoga for mental fatigue and balance. According to Harvard Medical School, the practice of yoga can stimulate self-soothing through techniques like mediation. This is ideal for combatting anxiety and stress in recovering athletes. It is not uncommon for sports athletes to experience mental blocks after an injury. Some yoga practices for anxiety and stress relief include guided mediation and mindful yoga therapy, a practice developed to help veterans cope with PTSD.
The benefits of yoga as an athlete are numerous, whether you are recovering from injury or looking to improve your general fitness. Improved muscle recovery, the release of muscle tightness, and better mental balance are just a few ways yoga can help an athlete on their road to recovery, allowing them to come back not only sooner, but in better shape.
By Jess Walter
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