Participants Number 1 Complaint: Wrist Pain

I’ve been teaching yoga for a couple of years now and as an instructor, I’ve heard various complaints from participants of body parts hurting as we explore practice. Of course the last thing, I want to experience or even hear from participants is that yoga hurts.

I always open my classes and remind my participants to “listen to your body and if your body says NO then don’t do it or modify.” I believe it is extremely important to remind ourselves and our participants to have that “MIND-BODY CONNECTION.” Sometimes this advice is easily taken, sometimes it isn’t. We all know there are other areas in fitness where it is preached “NO PAIN, NO GAIN.” However, for your participants that actually do speak up, advice is a little more easily accepted. As I teach and observe my classes, I find other options or offer props and most of the time this resolves their complaint and they can continue enjoying practice. Make sure you tell your participants that props and alternative options are friends and it doesn’t make them less of a yogi if they use them!

Now, if I had to rate which complaint I hear most often, I’d have to say its wrist pain and it is something that is much harder to fix than other areas that need attention. So I decided to do a little homework and explore what is out there. Here is what I’ve learned.

Wrist Range of Motion (ROM):

To start, it is very important to understand the ways in which a person’s wrist can move. To visualize, place your right arm in front of you with your palm facing away from you and move your wrist as I describe the ways to move it.

Bend right hand towards the inside of your forearm or radial bone; thumb down (hand is moving left) – ABDUCTION

Bend right hand towards the outside of your forearm or ulna bone; thumb up (hand is moving right) – ADDUCTION

Bend your hand down towards the floor so fingers point down – FLEXION

Bend your hand up towards the ceiling so your fingers point up – EXTENSION

Rotate your wrist so the thumb is midline to the body – PRONATION

Rotate your wrist so the thumb is away from the body – SUPINATION

Image

Now visualize the various poses offered in a typical yoga class: All 4’s, Crocodile, Cobra, Upward Facing Dog, Downward Facing Dog, Crow … just to name a few. Think about what the wrist is doing. With these poses, the wrist is often in a 90˚ “EXTENSION” along with our body weight and is this not when the complaints arise?

In yoga, many times wrist EXTENSION is pretty intense and new people aren’t used to this intensity so it hurts. Think about it, in general, how often do any of us have our wrists in full extension? Umm, not to often. So as long as person doesn’t have a wrist injury, past surgery, or even Carpal Tunnel Syndrome there are a lot of options out there to help alleviate the intensity and also to strengthen the wrist so you’ll be able to do those poses more comfortably.

Suggestions:

Props: Wedges, folded towels, or hands placed on edge of a folded mat, will lessen the angle of extension which can alleviate the intensity of the wrist’s pain. There are also “Wrist Assured Gloves” (WAG) which provide support like a brace. And recently these yoga eggs which are a hybrid between a ball and a block also lessen the angle. I’ve seen these eggs advertised in Yoga Journal, you can find them on Amazon, and YogaFit offers trainings which incorporate them. Other props change up the hand position. These include small (non-rounded) hand weights or Gripitz or even just creating fists vs. having the wrist in extension is another option. (I’ve found a great selection of these types of props at Dick’s Sporting Goods store).

Choosing Other Pose Options:

Sphinx vs. Cobra/Upward Facing Dog

Hovering Palms in Cobra vs. Cobra with hands pressed in the mat

Dolphin vs. Downward Facing Dog (or use props such as eggs, wedges or towels, straps or chairs)

Focus on Hand Placement and Pressure; Are You/They Actually Doing the Pose Correctly:

  1. Stack the joints (hands under shoulders) and spread fingers out like “starfish” –and ensure your index finger is pointed forward verses angled out. This distributes the pressure.
  2. Press down where the fingers join the palms and allow it to continue down towards fingertips with most weight being on the thumb side of the hand, ensure middle fingers are parallel to each other. The thumb side of the hand is stronger than the pinky finger side.
  3. Engage those leg muscles! When you are in Downward Facing Dog, you aren’t supposed to place all your body weight into the hands; however, lots of people are guilty especially if they have tight hamstrings! Pursue the pose correctly and/or instructors fix their alignment! Exhale as you enter into the pose, relax the head and neck, ears should be between the biceps, shoulders are relaxed and pulling towards the hips, not the ears. If you think you are doing all the previously mentioned stuff, but more body weight is forward thus translating into wrists, try slightly bending the knees to modify. And of course, follow the above steps 1 and 2 for the hands.

Daily Strengthening Wrist Exercises:

  1. Place hands together at “Heart’s Center,” lower palms down as elbows lift. – This will help you get used to the “EXTENSION.”
  2. Make a fist, rotate your fist clockwise 10x and then 10x counterclockwise, end with stretching “Starfish Fingers.”
  3. Make a fist, palms up and do wrist curls. Rotate palm down, and do “upward” wrist curls. Try first alone and then with hand weight as the wrist strengthens.

Something else you can do that offers relief after an intense pose is to rotate wrists or fold the wrist the opposite way where fingers are at the inner portion of the forearm. I always do both of these after Crow pose and it feels great! You can also seek relief when your hands are at heart’s center during say Twisted Chair pose. Just fist up the bottom hand and keep the top hand flat. Push the two gently together.

Be kind to those wrists. Send them some love. Enlighten yourself and your participants! Enjoy the benefits of practice!

Namaste,
Kristen

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22 Responses to Participants Number 1 Complaint: Wrist Pain

  1. Meghan says:

    Thank you for this Kristen! After a decade of practice, I still have wrist issues sometimes. I’ll be referencing this post for a while!

    • kwarren1970 says:

      Hi Meghan,

      I’m very happy that you like it. I had decided to research it because I didn’t like to see the frustration on some of my client’s faces as they experienced wrist pain and to me it was the hardest to fix in class. Yoga should be a pleasant experience, not painful.

  2. I have had a lot of wrist problems, I even had to stop my practice for over a year because it was so painful. Fortunately with a lot of physio (similar to what you are recommending here 😉 and exercising my options with pose variations/omissions I have been able to return to a greater appreciation of my practice. One thing I learned during a teacher training that really helped me was the verbalization of what exactly “Starfish” hands were. Not just ‘stretch your fingers wide’ – but ‘creating space in the back of your hands, spreading the knuckles in your palms as wide as possible while pointing your middle finger to the front of your mat.’ Those words and that imagery just really clicked for me. Additionally adjusting my arm position, especially in downward dog, was a wrist saver!

    Glad you did the post – I will definitely direct my participants who are taking care of their wrists to this article.

    Warm Regards
    Tara

    • kwarren1970 says:

      Tara,

      I’m glad you have overcome your wrist issues. I investigated wrist issues when I had a few clients really stressing over their wrists and trying to have a practice. I hated seeing their frustrations. It really bothered me to watch their struggle. Happy to be of assistance to your clients as you refer them.

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