Yoga can be a real pain in the butt if you’re not careful. Although this ancient practice is one of the most physically and mentally rewarding methods of movement, flowing through poses can cause injuries.
“Yoga butt,” while not a medical term, is a casual way of referring to an injury people can get from doing yoga.
More specifically, yoga butt is an overuse injury from some of the most basic and frequently performed poses. The good news? It’s rarely complicated or advanced.
Read on to find out what it is, how to spot it, what causes it, and how to make yoga butt go away.
“Yoga butt, technically called proximal hamstring tendinopathy, is an irritation or inflammation of the hamstring tendons at their attachment site on the ischial tuberosity (the sitting bone),” explains Jenni Tarma, a Yoga Medicine therapeutic specialist.
While it’s also possible to experience an acute injury in these tendons, like a sudden sprain or tear, Tarma says tendinopathy is a chronic condition that happens over time.
In the context of the yoga practice, Tarma says one of the main contributing factors is repeatedly doing poses that require end range of motion hip flexion. This includes:
- Deep Forward Fold
- Compass Pose
- any pose where the foot is put behind the head
“Since tendons have a limited amount of elasticity, these kinds of poses can cause the tendons to become overstretched and irritated,” she explains.
Physical therapist Leada Malek, DPT, CSCS, SCS says that high hamstring and deep glute rotator strains as well as piriformis syndrome are extremely common due to the single-leg stance and hip rotation components of certain poses.
“When there is a demand on the hip and knee to stabilize, ideally the entire glute complex, deep hip rotators, and hamstring muscles are working efficiently together,” explains Malek.
However, if one of these factors is slightly off due to pain or weakness, she says it can set off symptoms in either area as there’s a struggle for compensation.
And finally, yoga poses generally doesn’t incorporate hamstring strengthening. Combined with frequent and sometimes extreme stretching, this can exacerbate the issue and cause overall function and load tolerance to decrease, says Tarma.
“In this sense, hamstring tendinopathy is not just an overuse injury, but also an underloading issue: The tissues haven’t been subjected to enough challenge and have therefore lost their ability to tolerate the stress of certain movements or joint positions, resulting in pain and irritation (aka poor function),” she explains.
Experienced yogis will tell you there’s no mistaking the pain and discomfort associated with yoga butt.
According to Malek, common symptoms include a deep ache or pain in the glute, just below it, or at the ischial tuberosity (sit bone) where the hamstring inserts. It can feel tight or like a mild strain.
Additionally, Malek says the deep knot-like feeling in the piriformis muscle can even manifest as sciatic symptoms and tingling or numbness down the leg. This is because the piriformis goes directly over the sciatic nerve in some individuals, if not through it or under it.
In yoga, Tarma says you would most commonly feel pain during hip flexion in poses such as:
- Forward Fold
- Padangusthasana (Big Toe Pose)
- Happy Baby
There are many physical benefits to practicing yoga. According to the
- increased strength and stamina
- better energy levels
- enhanced flexibility
- reduced low back pain
- reduced stress
That’s why the sooner you can heal this injury, the better.
Since many people experience this condition as a cycle of flare-ups that come and go, Tarma recommends resting until the worst of the irritation passes.
“This could mean avoiding any positions or movements that trigger the symptoms, modifying poses in yoga class, and possibly wearing a compression wrap around the upper thigh to take some of the strain off the hamstrings and their tendons,” she says.
When it comes to improving yoga butt long-term, Tarma says once the inflammation subsides, you’ll want to start loading the tissues. This will help them get stronger and develop better overall function and capacity to tolerate stress.
“This means building strength in the tendon and the muscle, in as broad a variety of positions and planes of motion as possible,” she explains.
To do this, Tarma recommends isometric holds, since they’re accessible to most people and can have an analgesic (pain-relieving) effect.
Once those feel manageable, she says you can progress to more challenging movements like eccentrics and plyometrics and increase the load. Weighted squatting and deadlifts are two examples.
This issue can also be slow to improve, so it pays to manage your own expectations and be patient as you take steps to heal.
Q: What are examples of isometric exercises? What’s an example of an eccentric exercise that works the hamstrings?
A: An isometric exercise is one in which a muscle or group of muscles is contracted without a change in length.
In yoga class, this might sound like “hug the muscles against the bone.” To strengthen the hamstrings, your yoga instructor or physical therapist may recommend poses like Locust Pose, Balancing Stick, or Side Plank.
Try leg curls using a resistance band to build hamstring strength. Deep squats (with or without handheld weights) can also be beneficial.
— Courtney Sullivan, CYT
If certain poses are aggravating the injury, it’s best to avoid them and try a different sequence. A knowledgeable yoga instructor or physical therapist can help you modify poses, so you can continue with your yoga practice.
In the meantime, here are a few alternative poses to try.
Malek says Bridge Pose is an excellent way to get symmetrical glute activation without a lengthened hamstring position. This allows the muscles to be activated without aggravating the areas that are irritated.
Tree Pose with a modification
She also recommends Tree Pose with your foot placed on the calf. It’ll be easier to balance than with your foot placed high in the hip.
An easier stance for balance will likely allow for better recruitment of the glutes that stabilize the hip, without triggering factors like hamstring or piriformis overcompensation.
Chair Pose and Deep Single Leg Chair Pose
Once you can tackle Chair Pose, Malek says to work your way up to more advanced poses for the legs, like a Deep Single Leg Chair Pose, which takes a lot of core, hip, and quad stability to do efficiently and can be a risky one.
Keep your knees slightly bent
To avoid this pain in the butt in the first place, Kelly Clifton Turner, E-RYT 500 and director of education for YogaSix, says to keep a microbend in your knees even during forward folds and other hamstring stretches.
Don’t stretch as deeply
Ensure you don’t go past your edge or push yourself deeply into a pose early in the practice.
Take a break
If you have this pain, Turner says to take a break from stretching the hamstring or moving towards your full range of motion.
“I had yoga butt but didn’t address it early, so I had to spend about 6 months of my yoga practice keeping a generous bend in my knees any time I was in a Forward Fold,” she explains.
More tips to prevent yoga injury
Additional tips from Turner include:
- Keep your knees bent.
- Use blocks under your hands to keep from “hanging out” on your joints.
- Focus on engaging your quads in Forward Folds or other hamstring-openers to avoid overstretching.
Yoga butt is something that can happen to any yogi. If you’re dealing with this high hamstring pain, it’s important to modify or skip poses that may aggravate the injury.
You can also incorporate balance and strengthening exercises into your overall workout routine to avoid re-injuring the area or to prevent yoga butt in the first place.
When in doubt, it’s always a good idea to talk to a physical therapist or knowledgeable yoga instructor.