July 6, 2012

Wrist Pain in Yoga

Photo Credit: artbistro.monster.com
Joint pain can frequently arise in a yoga practice, especially if you have had past injury in your wrists/knees/elbows/etc., or if you aren't mindful to protect these areas during your practice. My last post focused on protecting your knees, and today we will focus on the wrists.

In the Vinyasa yoga style, in particular, your wrists end up bearing quite a bit of weight. As you flow through multiple Sun Salutations, or practice arm balances like Crane Pose Handstand and even Down Dog, your wrists carry you and hold you up. If you have had past wrist injury or strain or a current issue like carpal tunnel syndrome, it is important to speak with your physician to determine what is safe for your practice. In the least, you'll want to modify your practice and give your body time to build strength where it may be vulnerable to injury.

Below are a few tips for alleviating wrist pain in your yoga practice:
[As always, in your home or in-studio practice, it is important to STOP and back off if a pose or sequence is causing pain. You know your body (or are growing more familiar with it through yoga) and need to listen to those little warning signs that say "Please, back off!"] 

1.) Gently stretch your wrists every day, as well as before you practice. A great way to build strength and to increase your ability to flex and extend in the wrists, is to daily stretch the joints and tissue there. Many of us corporate-cube-dwellers rarely stretch our wrists during the day, as we sit at a computer and type for hours, holding our wrists (and elbows and forearms) at the same angle for long periods. 

Your wrists, like any joint, will lose any range of motion that isn't exercised regularly, and thus over time you can lose the ability to move the wrist into full extension without discomfort in your yoga practice (i.e., a 90 degree angle between the hand and the forearm). So take time to stretch!

2.) Check the range of flexion and extension in your wrists before you practice. This will inform you as to whether you need to take it easy with your wrists in your practice (e.g., modifying poses by coming down to your forearms or even resting on fists instead of wrists).

Judy Gudmestad, a licensed physical therapist and certified Iyengar Yoga teacher over at Yoga Journal, offers these tips to check the range of motion in your wrists, particularly extension.

"Come to your hands and knees with the heels of your hands directly under your shoulders. Your wrists are now at 90 degrees of extension. Are they completely comfortable in this position? If not, you should work to gently and gradually increase your wrist extension.

An easy way to do this is to put your hands together in Namaste (Prayer at the heart) in front of your chest. Keeping the heels of your hands together and your fingers pointing up, gently press your hadns down toward your waist. Don't let the heels of your hadns come apart; if you do, you'll lose the wrist stretch. If you regularly hold this stretch for a minute or two as part of your daily stretch routine, you'll gradually be able to move the wrists into deeper extension."

3.) Check the alignment of your hands. They should be about shoulder width apart, with the middle finger of each hand pointing straight ahead.

4.) Mindfully lift up and away from your wrists to alleviate pressure. For example, in Down Dog, imagine drawing up and away from the floor/wrists.

5.) Press into your knuckles and spread your fingers away from your wrists. You want to distribute your weight evenly into your hands, avoiding placing all of the pressure on the heel of the hand and wrist. Create space there in the wrists. 

Quarter Dog (down dog on forearms)
Photo Credit: fitsugar.com
A FitSugar article, "Ways to Prevent Wrist Pain in Common Yoga Poses", offers tips for specific poses that frequently cause wrist pain to arise.  For example, in Down Dog, FitSugar recommends:

"Instead of placing your palms flat on the floor, make fists with your hands, or place your forearms on the mat, coming into Quarter Dog. Or you may benefit from using a wedge, a type of foam block that elevates the wrist, decreasing the amount of bend at the joint."

Ultimately, it is important to take your time with your yoga practice, especially in the areas of fitness or strength that you'd like to improve. If you respect and steward your body throughout your yoga journey, you will make safe and rewarding progress physically and mentally.

What tips have you used to modify your yoga practice in order to alleviate wrist pain? 


  1. Great post Stone! This is actually one of the main reasons why I have been going to Pain Management Doctors in NJ, my wrists started to really hurt from yoga. Thank you for sharing these tips and for helping!

    1. Kate, thanks for your comment. I am so glad you found this post helpful! I commend you for continuing with yoga, as you learn how to protect your body. It is a journey for me, as well, to make sure that I am mindful of my body as I move through my yoga practice - and to take it easy when I might want to "push through it" so that I can continue practicing safely for years to come. Thanks again for coming by my blog!

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. hi everyone, i have a legitimate wrist injury... years as a gymnast and moden dancer and one of my wrists always has pain.. But i don't want to quit inversions completely in yoga. Full bridges and handstands hurt most... any recommendations for adaptions for these specific poses that are super fantastic but hard to adapt? I've tried making a fist in a bridge, and kind of going up on the ball of my hand for handstand... but then my teachers get so scared... ideas?

    1. The Invisible H, thanks for stopping by rippleofonestone! It definitely sounds like you need to take care of your wrist given that you describe your injury as "legitimate." Have you been diagnosed with any particular injury? If you haven't seen your practitioner yet, I would recommend you get an actual/official diagnoses for what is causing the pain. When you do so, your physician (and physical therapist if seeing one is part of your prescribed healing regimen) can help give you exercises to strengthen your wrists and educate you as to what, specifically you need to avoid in order to protect your body. Ultimately, you ought not to attempt poses that hurt your wrist until the issue is diagnosed and you are clear on what is "safe" (i.e., what won't cause further/permanent injury).

      It can be frustrating when we have to "slow down" due to our bodies telling us something is wrong - but it is very important to listen and check out what the problem may be (listening to our bodies is one of the keys of yoga, after all!). You don't want to do more harm than good. Good luck with getting an answer! I'd be happy to share ideas with you once you have more specifics re: your injury/diagnosis.


Thank you for visiting my blog, rippleofonestone.blogspot.com and for taking the time to comment!