Wrist Pain During Yoga

For being so small, the wrist is complex. Let’s review a little anatomy to get started. The wrist is composed of 8 little bones, packed full of ligaments, and has several tendons crossing those 8 little bones that control your fingers. For a small area, there’s a lot of stuff going on! 

Look at the angle of your wrist as you do your yoga poses. Whether this is done by looking up, looking in a mirror, or having a friend/family member give you feedback. Is your wrist at a complete 90 degree angle? Often times this is too vulnerable of a position when we start doing yoga, are coming back from a break, or have any type of injury/medical limitation (e.g. osteoporosis, carpal tunnel, tendonitis, etc.) If I’ve just explained you, don’t fret, just keep reading 🙂

So, that’s it? Because you have carpal tunnel you can’t do yoga? Not true at all!

First, I’d encourage you to meet with a physician, occupational therapist, or physical therapist to discuss your wrist pain. Is there an actual injury or cause for the wrist pain? Or is it simply due to putting your wrists into different positions that you’re not used to (yet)? 

If there’s an actual injury to your wrist, address it. This may include: gentle stretching, massage, heat/cold, splinting, and/or gradual strengthening exercises. Look to your medical professional for advice on this. While Google is a wonderful tool, I’ve often found people doing exercises that are exacerbating their pain levels due to incorrect information or incorrect self-diagnosis when they initially start seeing me for therapy. Your healthcare professionals went to school for a reason- Google cannot replace the several years of education health professionals have under their belt. Once your injury has been addressed and you’re feeling more like you again, gradually start integrating weight bearing poses into your yoga practice again. 

Let’s talk about prevention:

  • Hand Placement. Often times wrist pain can be reduced by adjusting your hand placement. Ideally, your fingers are spread apart creating a stable base of support for you. Next, actively push into your yoga mat through your entire hand-including each finger, with the exception of the very center of the palm of your hand. The palm of your hand should be slightly lifted from the floor. This position distributes the weight throughout the entire hand vs a small section of your hand/wrist.
  • Do. Your. Stretches. “But Nicki, isn’t that what yoga is for? Why do I need to stretch before I stretch?” Yes and no. If we go straight into downward dog as our first pose without warming up first, you may feel a little stiff. While stiffness doesn’t mean injury, continuing to do poses when you’re stiff can lead to impingement and increased inflammation. Some simple wrist stretches while you warm up will decrease strain on your wrists during weight bearing poses. Try integrating prayer hands into your warm up to assist with wrist pain prevention, but remember to keep this a gentle stretch vs forcing mobility that may/may not be there. 
Try integrating prayer hands into your warm up to assist with wrist pain prevention
  • Pace yourself. I’m begging you. Please do not go from never doing yoga before to holding crow pose for 10 minutes. That’s an extreme example, but gradually building the strength in your wrists by increasing the amount of time spent weight bearing on them is important. Just like you can’t go from couch to running a marathon overnight, you need to slowly ramp up weight bearing on your wrists as well. 
  • Alignment. We talked about looking at the angle of your wrist during certain poses earlier this this post, but this is so much more than that. If your shoulders/elbows/hands are not properly aligned, chances are pretty high that your wrists are not properly aligned either. Unless advised otherwise, most people should have their arms spread shoulder-width apart, elbows pointed towards your toes, and fingers pointed ahead of you when in a weigh bearing position. 
  • Modify the pose.
    1. Bend your knees. Most of the individuals I work with say the majority of their wrist pain happens during plank and downward dog. Bending your knees shifts your weight, which may put less stress on your wrists. If you bend your knees enough to the point that they are touching the ground, not only are you shifting your weight but you’re alleviating weight from your wrists in general. I highly encourage you to start various weight bearing poses with your knees bent when you are starting yoga, or returning from a break.
    2. Drop down to your forearms. Who says you need to put weight through your wrists anyway? Putting weight through your arms is an excellent way to strengthen your upper body. But let’s face it, not everyone can do these poses all the time. Doing planks on your forearms vs your wrists gives you the benefit of strengthening your upper body and stabilizing muscles without adding stress to your wrist joints.
  • Use props.
    1. Block. Gripping the narrow side of your block with your fingers facing down allows you to keep your wrist in a straight/neutral position vs bent backwards. This same position can be obtained using free weights as well.
      • Especially if you drop down to your forearms, often times this results in a whole different alignment then you’re used to, and may result in additional stress on your back. Placing blocks under your forearms will raise your shoulders to offer you similar alignment that you’re used to, as well as eliminating strain on your wrists. Place the wider side of your block facing up to add stability.
    2. Chair. Similarly to using blocks, you may also hold onto the side of a chair during weight bearing poses. This has the added benefit of doing poses at an incline, which reduces the overall weight going through your wrists as well. Simply hold onto the seat of your chair with your fingers facing towards the ground. Make sure you have your shoulders placed directly above your wrists to avoid bending your wrists sideways. Wrists should be straight in a neutral position.
    3. Towel. A wedge may also be used, but most people have a towel more readily available than a wedge. To utilize this method, you’ll continue to do weight bearing poses through your wrist with your fingers pointed forward and your wrist bent backwards. However, you’ll add a rolled towel (or wedge) under your base of your hand/wrist while placing your fingers on the floor. This creates a downward slope, encouraging you to shift weight into your fingers and reducing weight directly through your wrists.
      • Please note: You can also roll the front of your mat towards you to make a cushion for your wrists. This is the easiest option, but you’ll be compromising the length of your mat. For those of you with crazy long legs like me, this may not work for you.

Now, let’s say you’re currently having wrist pain. Like I said earlier in this post, please discuss this with your physician, occupational therapist, or physical therapist. But in the meantime, try some of the “prevention” techniques listed above. Look at your alignment, modify the pose, and try different props. You shouldn’t have to completely stop doing yoga because of pain (unless your healthcare professional advises you to do so). Let your yoga practice work for your needs. If you need help, I’m your girl ♥ 

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