The wrist is one of the weaker parts of the body, and prone to injuries. Unfortunately, yoga wrist pain happens more often than you’d think. Because some asanas put a lot of stress on hands and wrists. This is especially the case in vigorous styles of yoga such as Vinyasa or Ashtanga practices. The high frequency of yoga push-ups and planks, as well as the vinyasa’s (Up-Dog, Down Dog, Jump-back’s, etc) can lead to overload, strain and eventually injury.
Sometimes, the more wrist-dependent yoga poses offer opportunities to strengthen the wrists. And keep in mind that for new yoga students, wrist pain might sometimes simply be soreness. This will change once they’ve developed a steady practice.
When the wrist is extended, it puts stress on all the soft tissue, especially the tendons. This extended position of the wrist happens in the Plank Position, Push-ups and hand balancing postures such as the Handstand and the Crow for example.
Even keyboard typing with hiked wrists (your wrists should be completely neutral) can cause wrist issues such as the Carpal Tunnel Syndrom. In the typing case, the stress is low but frequent. When it comes to postures and exercises that place weight on extended wrist, as in certain yoga postures, the stress is high but infrequent.
People walk on their feet, not on their hands. When we load the wrists with our full weight, we need to allow for a certain adjustment period. Also the alignment of the wrist, and the right balance between strength and flexibility are important factors.
In other words, if we are using our hands as feet such as in arm balances, planks and Downward- Facing Dog, we need to give them a chance to get stronger gradually. In order to prevent yoga wrist pain in us and other, it is helpful to understand what to look out for.
It may sound logical, yet many would neglect this simple advice. Warming up is important for all of us. However the older we get or if we have a history of wrist issues we must warm up even better. Warming up not only improves lubrication of joints, but it also relaxes the adjoining muscles, and improves the local blood flow. It also prepares your body for physical stress. The classical Sun Salutation is a great way to ensure that your body and your wrists are warmed up properly, before you move on to place your full weight on to your hands.
Healthy wrists are strong, yet flexible. When the muscles around your wrist joint are balanced, it considerably reduces the risk of sprain, strains, or fracture. Slow and controlled hand balances such as the Easy Crow Pose are a great way to build up strength and flexibility in the wrists.
Avoid placing too much pressure only on the heel of your palms or bending fingers. It may need little practice to do it in the right way. Think about pushing the heel of your palms, as well as all your knuckles and all finger tips equally into the ground.
In hand balancing postures, spread your fingers and think about lightly gripping the floor (without bending the fingers though). Your hands need to be able to adjust to the constant micro weight-shifts that happen when you balance on them. The technique of spreading the fingers and lightly gripping the floor is essential to building up this sensitivity and at the same time protects your wrists.
If our core is weak, we have the tendency to shift the weight too much forward and to lean into the extended wrists. We lean away from the weak core and therefore end up creating even more extension in the wrists. By strengthening your core, as well as other large muscle groups that need to be active and well-coordinated in planks and hand balances, you will greatly reduce the risk of wrist strain.
One of the most significant reasons for wrist injuries & strain is over-enthusiasm. Most wrist injuries in yoga classes occur when beginning students want to do all the asanas and exercises perfectly, and from the very first time. However, you should listen to your body and remember that the wrists need time to adapt and adjust to the new challenges.
Continuing the topic, below are some of the more advanced tips. These 4 alignment cues are valuable to know for seasoned yoga practitioners and yoga teachers.
Creating two opposing spirals is a technique that increases the ability of shoulders, forearms, and wrist joints to bear weight. When placing the hands on the mat, think of creating a inward spiral with them by making sure that also the knuckles of the index finger and thumb stay grounded. Once you have that connection with the ground, think about moving the inside of your elbows forward in an external spiral.
When our shoulder joint is restricted due to tightness in the surrounding tissues it will have an effect of how we place the hands on the floor and therefore on the wrists. Working on shoulder and chest flexibility is highly recommended in these cases. Poses like Gomukhasana, Ushtrasana and Matsyasana are very effective.
Similarly, lack of strength in our shoulders and chest will make us lean into the lower joints and create unhealthy pressure. Hand balances and a vigorous series of Chaturanga’s, Up-Dog’s and Downward-Facing Dog’s are not “a walk in the park” for most of us. Therefore do not “jump” right into the full poses, especially with beginning students. Offer variations in which not the entire body weight is involved, and also consider doing shoulder, arm and chest strengthening exercises that are easy on the wrists such as the dynamic Dolphin.
Yoga students with a preexisting wrist condition or generally tight and sensitive wrists, can benefit greatly from using some support under the heel of the palm. You can ask them to fold their mat or a blanket and place the support under the heel of the palm. The fingers and the thumb remain unsupported. The slight level difference that is created by doing so, allows the student to do the pose without going too deep into the wrist extension.
Kalyani Hauswirth-Jain is a senior teacher & the Creative Director at the Arhanta Yoga Ashrams since 2013. She is a lead trainer for the 200 hour Yoga Teacher Training, 300 hour Yoga Teacher Training as well as a variety of 50 hour courses like Yin Yoga and Vinyasa Yoga, for more than eight years now.
She has also co-authored the internationally acclaimed book Hatha Yoga for Teachers & Practitioners: A Comprehensive Guide to Holistic Sequencing.