Ask the Yogi: How do I stop my wrists from hurting in yoga poses?

Q: My wrists hurt when I am in plank pose hand anatomyand upward dog pose. Is there something I can do about this?

A: Yes there is. You have a common complaint that is caused by the hand posture in these poses. In both poses, the wrist must be extended 90 degrees which is quite a challenge for most wrists. Some people are a little less flexible in their wrists which causes them to feel compression during these poses.

To check out your own wrist, hold your arms up in front of you with your forearms and palms touching each other. Now bend both of your wrists backward as much as comfortable. Notice the space between your hands. It is very rare that this space be perfectly flat. For most people the fingers will angle higher than the heel of the palm. For some, the hands form a V shape. The narrower the shape of the V, the greater pressure there will be on the wrists in certain yoga poses.

If you are in the group who has the V shape flexibility in your wrists, you will find poses like plank and upward dog very taxing on your wrists. Often people in this category have done a lot of work with their hands, perhaps using heavy tools or intricate work with their fingers. This kind of use causes the hands and wrist to posture more towards wrist flexion and fingers that curve inward and it limits the extension of the wrists and fingers.

wrist wedgeFor the V shape flexibility group the best idea is to reduce the pressure on the wrist in these poses by using a wedge designed for exercise use. The wrist wedge will reduce the pressure on the wrist by allowing it to maintain more of its V shape in the poses. This type of device will work well for poses where there is direct pressure downward, such as table top, plank and upward dog. I would be more hesitant to use it in downward dog pose because it might slide on the mat.

However, a device like the wrist wedge is only a part of the solution. It is great for reducing discomfort, but it does not resolve the problem. Strengthening the muscles that control the wrist may result in a more permanent solution and help resolve the problem instead of just treating the symptom.

The first part of resolving wrist issues should be creating greater wrist and hand awareness. We should work to be mindful of our hand position in all yoga poses and make sure we are placing the weight against our hand evenly through the following points. Weight should be distributed to the fingers, the knuckles, especially the index finger knuckle and the heel of the palm. Care should be taken to keep pressure away from the thumb. Try out this exercise.

correct hand pressurePlace your hand flat on your mat but do not put any weight on it. Deliberately press your fingers, knuckles and heel of the palm into the mat. Work to make your hand as flat as possible. You will feel the muscles of your forearm engage. After several deep breaths relax the pressure. Repeat a couple more times. If you do this type of exercise frequently, not only will you become more aware of your hand posture, but you will strengthen the muscles that hold your hand and wrist in proper positions for your yoga poses.

wrist lift exerciseAnother wrist recuperative exercise is a simple wrist lift. To do this, let your forearm and hand rest flat against your mat, on a table top or even a wall. Keep your elbow and your wrist lined up with your shoulder. Slowly lift your palm away from the surface while keeping your forearm flat. Lift only the amount that feels comfortable. Do not force the movement or assist with your other hand. Repeat this action a couple of times. At first you may find your wrist does not let your hand lift very far. If you do this exercise frequently you will be strengthening the muscles that extend your wrist and your wrist flexibility will increase.

As will all exercise, do nothing that causes you pain. Our body can change, but we must be patient, gentle and persistent with our efforts.

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