William Broad, the New York Times writer who ticked off a bunch of yogis (including Eddie Stern) with his book last year, and excerpted article in the Times, highlighting the dangers of yoga, is at it again.
Last time, it was mostly men who were at risk from yoga. With less flexibility than women, many tended to use their muscles to wrench them into poses, he said, resulting in injuries.
Now, it’s women he’s got his eyes on. From a piece in this Sunday’s Times:
Earlier this year, the picture of female superiority began to blur when a prominent yoga teacher in Hawaii wrote me about a poorly known threat to women.
The teacher, Michaelle Edwards, said that women’s elasticity became a liability when extreme bends resulted in serious wear and tear on their hips. Over time, she said, the chronic stress could develop into agonizing pain and, in some cases, the need for urgent hip repairs. Ms. Edwards sent me her book, “YogAlign.” It described her own hip pain long ago and how she solved it by developing a gentle style of yoga.
Her warning contradicted many books, articles and videos that hailed yoga’s bending and stretching as a smart way to fight arthritic degeneration.
I put her cautions aside. Finally, in late summer, I got around to making some calls.
To my astonishment, some of the nation’s top surgeons declared the trouble to be real — so real that hundreds of women who did yoga were showing up in their offices with unbearable pain and undergoing costly operations to mend or even replace their hips.
“It’s a relatively high incidence of injury,” Jon Hyman, an orthopedic surgeon in Atlanta, told me. “People don’t come in often saying I was doing Zumba or tai chi” when they experienced serious hip pain, he said. “But yoga is common.”
Women’s hips showed particular vulnerability. By nature, their pelvic regions support an unusually wide range of joint play that can increase not only their proficiency in yoga but, it turned out, their health risks. The investigators found that extreme leg motions could cause the hip bones to repeatedly strike each other, leading over time to damaged cartilage, inflammation, pain and crippling arthritis. They called it Femoroacetabular Impingement — or F.A.I., in medical shorthand. The name spoke to a recurrence in which the neck of the thigh bone (the femur) swung so close to the hip socket (the acetabulum) that it repeatedly struck the socket’s protruding rim.
Surgeons agree that women who moderate their practice can probably avoid hip trouble. Unfortunately, yoga teachers too often encourage students to “push through the pain.” That’s not smart. Pain is nature’s warning system. It’s telling you that something has gone awry.
Better to do yoga in moderation and listen carefully to your body. That temple, after all, is your best teacher.
This piece strikes me as having many of the same issues as Broad’s earlier work: It doesn’t put any of the number of surgeries in context. For instance, it quotes one surgeon as saying he does 50 to 75 surgeries on mostly women who were dancers or did yoga each year. But it doesn’t say how many patients, total, he has. Another doctor sees roughly 100 middle-aged women per year. But how many total patients does he see? It doesn’t say.
There’s no baseline.
And that makes it sloppy journalism, which I can’t help saying seems to be Broad’s M.O.y
It also contains the same logical fallacies of Broad’s earlier reporting. There is a problem with causality here. You can’t just assume because women come in to an orthopedic surgeon’s office complaining of hip problems and these women also do yoga that yoga caused them. Or, following the line that Broad draws, that their teachers caused them by forcing these seemingly powerless women to push through the pain.
I should also note that the Times is famous, in its Style section, for doing “trend” stories that are anecdotal. There’s a whole arena of media criticism on those Times trend stories: Moms are drinking more often during the day; men are waxing their bodies more; kids are asking for more feng shui design.
Nothing to suggest, actually, that there are any trends. Just that the journalists heard these stories from a couple of people, typically in their NY social circles.
Broad’s work seems to fall firmly into this “trend” at the Times.
But… I’m sure it still will get lots of attention, beginning with us.
Posted by Steve