Wrist Pain and Yoga: a Quick Guide

Yoga and wrist pain seem to go hand in hand for an unlucky few practitioners. This can be down to a variety of reasons -modern life; poor distribution of weight on the hands and improper engagement of the forearms. Brushing off wrist pain can result in long term damage and discomfort. Especially for vinyasa yoga, it really isn’t something you can just power through and ignore. Learning how to take care of the wrists can bring benefits far beyond just yoga. Even if you don’t experience wrist pain, I’d recommend you read on to prevent it happening in the first place! Click the Yoga tab on the header for more posts like this, including my article on forward folds and back pain.

Wrist extension 

The wrists have the ability to move the hands through a wide range of motion.  In yoga, the wrists are often in extension -whereby the hands bend the fingertips upwards. The hands are often in slight extension -think about the position you place them in when typing on a laptop. However, full extension is less common and forcing the wrists into a 90 degree angle can stretch the tendons and ligaments. Postures such as plank, chaturanga and many arms balances can bring the wrists into 90 degree or more extension. By contrast, downward dog places the wrist at a lesser extension, so is less strenuous on the ECRB, ECRL and ECU tendons.

Weight distribution over the hands

Another cause of wrist pain is uneven bearing of weight over the hands. Most frequently this can be seen by the weight of the body pressing into the heels of the hands in poses including downward dog. See for yourself: go into downward dog for 30 seconds or so and see if the outer heel of the hand is slightly read. If so, you need to change how you place your hands. Instead, press the finger tips into the ground, almost as if you were to grasp a handful of sand on the ground. The centre of the palm should almost lift upwards. In particular, pressing the thumb, index and middle finger mounds into the ground transfers weight through the forearm all the way to the shoulder girdle and so places the least pressure on the wrist.

Don’t forget the arms

A final consideration is ensuring that the forearms themselves are warmed up. Effective engagement of the forearm muscles will make it easier to distribute the weight across your hands as shown above. Even if you don’t experience wrist pain, appropriate mobilisation can help to prevent it. You’ll probably be familiar with going onto hands and knees and rocking back and forth over the wrist with your hands pointing forwards, then sideways and then backwards. To increase mobility, press the hands together in prayer and drawn the heels of the hands down to increase extension. To warm up the muscles of the forearms, movements that involve rapidly opening and closing the hands are effective. Head over to my instagram to see a video of several other techniques to warm up the forearms, and strengthen and mobilise the wrists.

If you do experience wrist pain, you may need to step back from your ego and modify. Either avoiding placing weight on the hands entirely or dropping to the knees can help. Practice the exercises detailed above, initially skipping those that involve your hands on the ground if this is too intense. Slowly build up your range of motion and strength over days or weeks as needed.

References: Yoga International; Doyouyoga