With a lot of weight bearing poses such as Downward-Facing Dog, Upward-Facing Dog, Plank pose and Handstand, an asana practice is not kind to our wrists. The weight combined with the immense range of motion students demand in yoga classes often leads to wrist strain or wrist issues. There are some easy and simple tips to prevent injury to our wrists while practicing yoga. By following some basic guidelines we can avoid injuries and prevent wrist strain so we can fully enjoy our practice.
Anatomy of the wrist
It is helpful to understand the different structures of wrist anatomy that are effected during common yoga poses. The carpal bones (the eight small sized bones that make up the wrist joint) are held together by delicate ligaments and muscles. These bones then support the hand and fingers which makes them extremely vulnerable to injury. The carpal tunnel is a narrow canal located on either side of the wrist. It contains many nerves that control sensation, movement and blood flow in the hands. The soft tissues within the wrist include tendons, nerves, blood vessels, and other supporting tissues. When inflammation and pressure builds inside this area, it can cause pain and numbness in the hands. Any type of trauma to these soft tissues may lead to pain and discomfort.
Wrist extension (moving the top of the hand towards the back of the forearm as you do in Anjali mudra) is an important movement for yogis to be mindful of during practice. This is especially important with poses that have a sharp angle of extension and weight bearing poses like arm balances. Yoga practitioners should also avoid overstretching their wrists in flexion. This may destabilize the wrist and cause injury to the muscles and tissues around the joints.
Sore wrists have a red flag
If your wrists are feeling sore after yoga class, you should wait until the pain dissipates before continuing your practice. This is a warning sign that you have weak wrists or have strained your wrists during your class. You may want to consider wearing a wrist compression glove or wrap after or during your practice. Rest, icing and elevation will also help reduce inflammation and promote healing. You should consult your doctor or health care provider if you experience any persistent pain or swelling
Tips to avoid wrist pain in yoga
If you are suffering from a wrist injury you may need to seek treatment from a doctor or physical therapist, but if it’s only mild or occasional soreness you can easily address wrist pain in your yoga practice with the following twelve tips.
1. Bring the ground to you
Downward Dog can be a weight bearing pose. Instead of placing your palms on the ground, bring the ground to you. Place yoga blocks, wedges, or even a chair under your hands to essentially raise the floor and force your weight out of your wrists. Think of it this way: the higher up you bring your hands, the more your body weight will shift to your legs.
2. Use your fists and forearms
One reason your wrists might hurt during yoga is because of the angle at which your wrist joint is bending. Too much wrist extension during weight-bearing postures can strain and inflame the joint. You can modify just about any pose by making fists or coming onto your forearms instead of using your palms. For example, practice Dolphin pose instead of Down Dog. You will still get all the benefits of the pose while keeping your wrists safe and pain-free.
3. Bend your knees
In poses like Plank or Downward-Facing Dog, we have a tendency to dump our weight into our hands, especially if we don’t have the core strength to support us. By bending our knees — or even bringing them to the ground — we relieve some of the effort and it becomes easier to shift our weight back.
4. Learn your alignment
Whenever we are practicing arm balances such as Plank, Chaturanga, Upward-Facing Dog, or similar yoga poses, many of us move our shoulders way past our wrists. Instead, think about aligning the position of the outer shoulder joint with the center of the wrist. This will stack your arm bones and keep you from putting unnecessary pressure on your wrists. Maintaining proper alignment in yoga postures will help protect your wrists from injury.
5. Engage to bandha
Hasta bandha, also known as the hand lock, is a subtle movement with a big impact. Hasta bandha is when you spread your fingers wide on the ground and draw upwards through the center of your palms. This movement helps engage your arm muscles, draws the energy up your arms, and relieves some of the pressure on your wrists. It can be challenging at first, but it can benefit your practice immensely as a lack of strength in this area can lead to wrist problems.
6. Warm-up beforehand
We often warm up our spines with cat pose and cow pose at the beginning of class. We might do neck rolls or stretch gently from side to side. These are all ways to prepare the body for the more intense postures throughout the class. We can do the same for our wrists by doing some wrist stretches. Try making a fist and moving your fist clockwise and then counter-clockwise.
7. Distribute your weight evenly
In Downward-Facing Dog focus on shifting the weight into your heels. In arm-balance poses such as Crow Pose, think about lifting through your core. The more you move your weight out of your wrists, the less repetitive stress there will be, and hopefully, you’ll notice a positive difference.
To prevent wrist pain from yoga, it’s important to be mindful of your hand positioning during poses. In any pose where your palms are on the ground, distribute your weight evenly throughout your hands. Don’t put all or most of the weight at your wrists — work on shifting the weight through your whole hand. To have your hands rooted down evenly, work on pressing your knuckles and fingertips into your yoga mat.
8. Embrace props and modifications
Props and modifications can be the difference between wrist injuries and wrist freedom. If your wrists are causing you problems, consider dropping a knee in Side Plank or gripping blocks in handstand. When you use props and modifications you allow yourself to enjoy all the benefits of a pose without experiencing negative and harmful side effects.
9. Open your shoulders and strengthen your arms
When your shoulders are tight and your forearm muscles are weak, you are bound to dump your weight into your shoulders. Practice forward folding with your arms clasped behind your back, Bow pose, or eagle arms to work on opening your shoulders. Combine this with forarm strengtheners like Reverse Tabletop, Low Plank and Dolphin pose. You can also practice squeezing a stress ball to strengthen your wrists so that your body will be ready for whatever poses you want to try.
10. Practice on a firm surface
Anyone who has practiced yoga on the beach knows how much strain a soft surface can put on your wrists. The beach might be beautiful and the carpet might feel good on your knees, but if you are experiencing a lot of wrist pain, consider shifting to a hardwood floor or using a thinner yoga mat. The solid surface will provide more support for your hands and make it easier for you to focus on proper alignment.
11. Strengthen your core
Core strength is important to maintain a balanced weight distribution through your whole body. Strengthening your core muscles will help prevent injury by not having to overuse the muscles in your hands and wrists. To keep your wrists happy, make sure you incorporate several core strengthening poses into your yoga sessions, like Boat pose, Warrior 3 and Low Plank.
12. Listen to your body and take it slow
Wrist injuries are often caused by over-enthusiastic beginners who try to perform too many advanced poses. This will be especially true in styles of yoga that focus heavily on the sun salutation series of movements. The wrists need time to strengthen and adapt to the new challenge. Listen to your body and be patient. A general rule in yoga is that if something hurts, stop doing it. Experiment and try it a different way or research and reflect on what the core issue is that is creating pain or discomfort.
Use these tips for a pain-free yoga practice
Your foundation, your alignment, and the strength and flexibility of the rest of your body can all contribute to yoga wrist pain. However, if you follow the above tips you should have no problem achieving pain-free wrists in your yoga practice.
If you have a preexisting wrist condition like carpal tunnel syndrome or a recent wrist injury the above tips can also be helpful, but make sure your doctor or physical therapist gives you permission to practice these yoga wrist pain exercises. Even with mild wrist discomfort you should practice slowly, gently and mindfully as not to make your pain worse.
Video tips and instruction
If you wish to further expand and explore these principles and practices, check out this great 15-minute video from Cathy Madeo Yoga. She demonstrates alignment and pose modifications and shows several stretching and strengthening exercises to help with wrist pain. Watch the video below: