Yoga Must-Know: Headstand & Neck Safety

Headstand (Sirsasana) has long been called the “king of all yoga postures.” That claim has now come under fire as the yoga community progressively questions about its safety. A research study released in the Journal of Bodywork & Movement Therapies exposes the possibly injury-causing weight-bearing duty of the head and neck at minutes of peak force during headstand and concerns whether its threats justify its benefits.

Can Headstands lead to Head and Neck Pain?

There is a possibility that poses like the headstand or shoulderstand could be dangerous if attempted without proper caution or without a yoga teacher to assist. This and other yoga poses may even create too much stress on the neck and shoulder area in general to be attempted by some people, as it could be damaging to the cervical spine or neck, the alignment of the spine, the nervous system, or any number of other areas.

Yoga students should make sure they have the body strength to support their bodyweight during a shoulderstand, and that a yoga teacher is present to assist so that you can safely avoid injuries. Don’t attempt a practice that your teacher does not approve as safe. There are a number of articles and studies discussing whether a head or shouderstand pose is safe and whether there are any who should take caution or avoid a practice like this. Trying the position in the middle of the floor or using a place on the floor next to a wall to help can prevent you from losing your balance, but you need to think about the way your back, neck, shoulder, or chest could be effected by the force of your bodyweight pressing on it as well to keep yourself out of harms way.

Many yoga poses are safe, but there is always a chance you could get hurt from some exercises if you don’t use caution or strain yourself too much. These articles and studies explain the dangers of this yoga pose to the neck, back, shoulders, muscles, and even chest, vertebrae, or chin. You could cause lasting pain or health problems if you are not careful. You will want to perform this pose with caution, and get the strength you need to support your bodyweight safely before you start. Don’t attempt the pose without help, and make sure you take as long as you need to learn it in the proper, safe way.

Research Study Examines Yoga Poses and Neck Injuries

Scientists at the University of Texas at Austin recruited 45 skilled (18 years of age and older) yoga specialists who were devoid of chronic neck injury and able to perform a supported headstand for a minimum of 5 breath cycles.

Woman in motion standing on head

Professionals were divided depending on their chosen technique for getting in and exiting headstand: symmetrical prolonged (SE), in proportion bent (SF) or unbalanced flexed (AF). Those in the in proportion prolonged group got in and left the pose with legs directly and together. Balanced flexed participants went into the present with symmetrical thighs and bent knees, whereas those in the asymmetrical flexed group entered the posture one leg at a time with legs in some degree of flexion. The groups were matched according to age, gender and yoga experience, and didn’t vary considerably by weight, height, years of experience or frequency of yoga practice.

Tests that were Run

Each participant was separately invited into the laboratory and asked to finish a 10-minute warm-up and self-guided yoga practice. Following the heat up, 18 reflective markers were attached to predetermined areas on their bodies (chin, center of the forehead, spinous processes of C3, C7, T9, and L5 vertebrae, right and left earlobes, higher trochanters, base of the 2nd toe et cetera) so the movement of these chin, forehead, vertebrae, neck, and face ears could be determined using an “electronic camera movement capture system.” One marker was also positioned on a force plate to determine ground response force at the crown throughout headstand.

Woman standing on head and shoulders in yoga position

Participants then finished 3 headstands that were each held for 5 breath cycles. A 2-minute period between trials was consisted of to prevent fatigue.

Three Phases of Posture

The researchers divided each posture into 3 phases (entry, stability and exit) throughout which they gathered kinematic (body movement), force, typical and maximum weight bearing load and cervical spine (neck and shoulder area) positioning information. Arise from the 2nd and 3rd trial were balanced for each individual and used in the final analysis.

Danger of Headstands: Force on Heads and Necks

Findings from the research study were divided into 4 main classifications: force, neck angle, packing rate and center of pressure. Usually, the maximum force on the crown during headstand ranged from 40-48% of a person’s body weight. For a private weighing 150 pounds that is the equivalent of positioning 60-72-pound weights on the top of their head. According to the research study’s authors, this degree of force positions a minimum of 50% of people at risk for “load failure” or back and neck injury.

Variation in Stress

As you may picture, force on the crown differs by phase, with the best force happening throughout the stability phase (holding the pose) and the least occurring upon exit. The degree of force varied by strategy, with the prolonged leg position (SE) showing the lowest general force values, and little difference being identified in between the flexed leg variations (SF and AF).

Increased Risk Over Time

It’s necessary to keep in mind that the maximum force put on the crown and neck increased in magnitude during the pose. This is due to the fact that many practitioners gradually moved weight from their arms into the neck during the stability stage. This suggests that as the duration of the posture boosts, so does the pressure being placed on the head and neck and the potential for injury.

Woman standing on head and elbows in yoga position

Speed Analysis

The scientists next analyzed filling rate, or the speed at which the neck and head bear weight throughout each of the 3 stages of headstand. Outcomes suggested that the fastest loading rate occurred during entry into the posture, followed by exit and stability. Individuals in the unbalanced flexion group (AF), those who tend to kick up into the posture, had the quickest rate of load bearing compared to those who participated in the posture using a controlled, double leg technique. Fast load bearing may be connected with increased force and instability and greater threat for damage.

Neck Angle

Neck angle also is an important variable to think about in headstand, as extreme flexion jeopardizes the cervical spine, which can cause damage. When taking a look at the data from each of the 3 stages, the scientists discovered that the extension of the cervical spinal column (compression of the back of the neck) at the time of optimum weight filling was greatest throughout the entry stage. This recommends that the neck is most susceptible while individuals are participating in the present.

Crown Pressure

Last but not least, scientists examined changes in pressure at the crown of the head during entry, stability and exit. They found that people took part in more side-to-side moving at the crown of the head while attempting to balance between the arms and the head throughout the entry and exit phases of the present no matter method. Once again, this recommends that the neck or cervical spine is especially vulnerable when specialists are utilizing the crown of the head for stabilization.

While numerous compete that the neck is not vulnerable during headstand due to the fact that the arms presume most of weight bearing, these data verify that even experienced practitioners move their weight from their arms to the head and neck while sustaining the present.

Is One Yoga Technique Safer than Others for Entering Headstand?

Despite technique, the average skilled yoga professional loads the head and neck with approximately 40-48% of their body weight during headstand. This represents a significant force to a potentially susceptible region of the body. This force tends to increase with the duration of the present.

Woman doing handstand yoga position

Safest Methods of Entry

In taking a look at the 3 methods and considering that choice supplies the greatest degree of safety during both entry and exit, this research study suggests that entering headstand with straight legs that lift and lower at the same time results in the least amount of combined vertical weight loading and cervical flexion since entry and exit are sluggish and controlled. (It also requires a good deal of core and back strength). Although the information suggest that a single leg forward exit involves the least quantity of force, that benefit is balanced out by the considerably higher force put on the neck throughout single-legged entry.

Remaining Symmetrical

Weight loads are greatest utilizing the asymmetrical, single leg variation, probably because entry into the pose is “the least foreseeable and tougher to perform with consistency and controlled force,” state the authors of the study. This method also has the fastest loading rates which, the scientists keep in mind, is typically accompanied by the momentary stiffening of tissues, which increases the risk for failure loads and injury. As such, although the asymmetrical alternative appears more secure on the exit forward, if we presume that many people use the same technique when getting in and exiting the pose, this alternative is less desirable than raising and reducing both legs at the same time, gradually, and with control.

Ideal Speed

Although the sample size of this research study may have been too little to discover possible differences between the 3 strategies, these findings recommend that a slow, regulated entry into headstand may limit the likelihood of extreme weight loading, decrease shifts in weight bearing, and reduce unhealthy extension of the cervical spine, all understood to cause injury.

It’s essential to recognize that this research study was carried out with a sample of experienced yoga specialists with a recognized headstand practice along with the strength and ability to hold the posture for 5 full breath cycles. It did not consist of individuals discovering the present, those who do not regularly succeed in accomplishing headstand, or those who can not sustain it. In other words, this study did not include those at greatest threat for injury. As a result, aspects such as weight-bearing load on the neck and head may be underestimated.

Crucial Points for Teaching and Practicing Headstands in Yoga

The posture puts significant weight load onto the neck that, with poor positioning, technique and/or repetition might injure the cervical spine. There is also the risk for nerve damage in cases in which the neck or shoulder is hyperextended or the head moves to one side. You’ll want to keep your body (face, chest, shoulders, and so on) straight forward and not allow yourself to tilt or twist under the stress.

Back of the Neck and Spine Injuries

Headstand or shoulderstand positions that place less stress on the head and neck when entered into gradually and with control will be safer than those that don’t, irregardless of whether a wall or just the floor are used. Having a lot of stress at the back of the neck can be a risk as the spine or vertebrae may be hurt or their alignment effected, as well as the muscles.

The present is contraindicated when specialists have several of the following conditions: osteoporosis/osteopenia, hypertension, glaucoma, detached-retina, pregnancy, menstruation, cervical injury or dysfunction, heart conditions or other severe medical diagnoses involving back and neck pain, shoulder pain, or other parts of the body.

How To Safely Try the Pose

It’s important to teach students the headstand under the assistance of a highly experienced yoga instructor. Get the help you need first and find a floor or wall that will not pose a risk if you fall. A person should only attempt the posture when the instructor and student are positive that the specialist has adequate core and upper body strength to sustain and support the yoga pose in a way that will be safe for the back, neck, shoulders, and muscles.

The headstand is a yoga pose that has grown much in popularity, but it is important to teach it to students properly and practice it carefully without causing injuries, as with any form of exercise. Yoga students should not try poses like this without help and the assurance that they have the strength to lift and support their bodyweight carefully. The alignment of your back or your neck, shoulders, and muscles could easily be hurt and even experience long-term negative effects if you fail to use caution when you’re attempting a pose like this. You practice yoga to improve your health, and you don’t want to find negative effects in your neck, back, chest, or shoulders such as chronic pain due to the practice.

The Opinion of an Instructor

Although headstand is among my preferred inversions, I no longer teach or practice it. When comparing the research study relating to the threats and biomechanics of the present to its advantages, I’ve concluded that there are lots of inversions and forearm balances that offer the exact same gains at a portion of the danger. Personally, I pick safety and sustainability above all else for myself and the students in my care. Ultimately, it is an individual choice and one that all yoga trainers and practitioners should regularly review. Keep you health intact and don’t risk your neck!

References and Sources:



Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies.

Mayo Clinic.

Posture Pump.


Spine Health. 3 Ways to Improve Forward Head Posture

Womens’ Health Magazine. Headstands for Beginners – How to Safely Do the Yoga Pose

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November 17, 2019