If you sometimes experience wrist soreness or fatigue when you practice yoga, you aren’t alone. Some of the most commonly practiced and beloved yoga poses put a lot of weight on the wrists. This can actually be healthy for the wrists in the long run, since it helps build and maintain upper body strength and even prevent future injuries caused by lack of strength or range of motion.
However, for many yogis, arm balances (or even less strenuous poses like Downward-Facing Dog or Upward-Facing Dog pose) can be a problem if you are experiencing an injury or arthritis that causes wrist pain or a limited range of motion. After taking a looking at some common causes of wrist pain and stiffness, we will dive into some modifications to help you get back on your mat and into your favorite yoga poses again.
Stress Increases Inflammation, Symptoms of Arthritis, and Pain
When we are under psychological stress such as when feeling challenged or threatened, the body releases stress hormones as part of the “fight-or-flight” response. These stimulate the production of pro-inflammatory molecules. These molecules influence bone and organ function and, with chronic stress, increase bone loss and arthritis. Prolonged stress also leads to high levels of cortisol. This alters the effectiveness of cortisol to regulate both the inflammatory and immune response because it decreases tissue sensitivity to cortisol.
Need some help de-stressing?
If You Are Experiencing Wrist Pain…
Pain and stiffness can have many causes, so if you are not sure why you are experiencing them, always talk to a medical professional first. Common causes for wrist pain are: experiencing a sudden impact, repetitive stress, Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, tendinitis, bursitis, a sprain, a break, and gout. If you are working with injured and inflamed tissues, it is important to wait before doing these exercises until you have recovered enough. Then, create a conservative approach using your best self-listening skills.
Let’s Talk Anatomy
The wrist consists of carpal bones and their associated soft tissues. The eight carpal bones are arranged in two rows. One row of carpal bones joins the long bones of the forearm (the radius, and, indirectly, the ulna). Another row of carpal bones meets the hand at the five metacarpal bones that make up the palm. Bones, muscles, tendons, ligaments, nerves, veins, and arteries all converge in this small area, making it a very complex part of the body.
Start Simple: Warm It Up
Here are a few gentle wrist warm-ups that can make your yoga practice safer and more pleasurable. They are most effective when practiced daily. Another great time to do them is while waiting for the teacher to begin class if you are working with an instructor.
- Make soft fists and gently circle 5-10 times in both directions
- Make a claw with the hands and release 4-8 times
- Make a beak shape with your hand. Point the beak towards the floor while your arms are parallel to the floor. Draw them up over your head as you inhale. At the top of the in-breath open up your hands and spread your fingers apart, like they are a star, and exhale as you lower the arms and draw your finger tips back towards your head, while maintaining straight arms. Repeat 4-8 times.
- Flex your wrist (fingers point down) while pulling your fingers forward with the opposite hand.
- Extend your wrist (fingers point up) while pulling your fingers back with the opposite hand.
How To Take Back Your Favorite Poses and Do a Vinyasa Flow Again
Wrist Modifications for Plank pose:
- Shift your weight forward and back until you find the sweet spot. Often this will mean having the hands slightly in front of the shoulders instead of directly underneath them. Use this as your starting point for Chaturanga Dandasana.
- Do Plank pose with your hands on a chair instead
- Use fingertips or fists instead of palms on the floor
- Practice Plank on your forearms
Skip Upward Facing Dog while recovering from wrist pain/injury and substitute it for Cobra pose. If Cobra needs modification, try this:
- Instead of placing your palms right under your shoulders, slide them in front of your shoulders 10-15 inches and hug the palms to the earth while energetically dragging the palms towards the hips. Bring the heart forward and up. Keep the elbows bent, hugged into the sides of the waistline, and keep your hips on the floor.
- Have your hands about a foot to either side of your shoulders and your elbows bend at 90 degrees while using fingertips on the floor instead of palms.
- Do a forearm Cobra, otherwise known as Sphinx pose.
Wrist Modifications for Downward-Facing Dog:
- Place forehead on two blocks to release weight from the wrists
- Place hands on blocks, instead of the floor, pushing more of the weight off your hands and onto your feet
- Rotate hands slightly outward away from the midline of the body. This is particularly helpful if you are experiencing difficulty around the base of the thumb, pointer or middle fingers, as it opens up the space around the wrist joints at these areas.
- In your normal Downward-Facing Dog, step the feet wider than hip-width distance apart
- Do Dolphin pose instead with a block between the hands.
If one of these adjustments doesn’t work when practicing on your own, give it a few chances, making small shifts in alignment until you find what works the best for you. If you are not able to find a modification that works, or you just want more personalized instruction, seek out a yoga therapist to help you find the best options for your needs.
The most important thing is to be kind and compassionate towards yourself and give your body time to fully heal. Sometimes we don’t fully heal no matter how cautious we are. We are humans and our bodies are fragile. Pain is inevitable. Cultivating a balanced mind free from judgment can be very helpful.