Yoga & Accompanying Wrist Pain: Physiotherapy & Yoga Perspectives on How to Resolve

Yoga is an excellent exercise that incorporates stretching and mindful awareness of your body through movement.

There are many schools of yoga with a wide variety of different poses.  One of the most common schools of yoga is hatha yoga.  The movement sequences, or flows, in hatha yoga, incorporate exercises where you must put body weight through your wrists.  For example, downward-facing dog is one such pose.

It’s not uncommon for some people to experience wrist pain when doing these wrist-loading exercises.  Wrist pain when doing body-weighted yoga poses can result from an old injury, a muscle imbalance or overtraining.  Although you may feel your yoga practice gets limited because of this wrist pain, don’t fear!

In this article, Innovation Physical Therapy & Yogalife are teaming up to bring you a complementary perspective on this issue.

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Wrist Pain in Yoga

There are a variety of yoga poses that can load the wrists.  Downward Facing Dog, Upward-Facing Dog, Plank and Chaturanga are among the most common poses, especially in a Vinyasa-style class.

Several bones make up the wrist joint – 13, in fact!  These bones work together to provide flexibility and stability to the wrist.  As a result, wrist pain can occur in many places, but the most common would be just below the thumb in the small divot that shows up when you spread all your fingers.  It is also familiar to experience pain in both the front and back of the wrist.

Yoga Recommendations on How to Reduce Wrist Pain

When starting yoga, there is a common tendency to grip the yoga mat like a bear.  This aggressive grip can end up causing pain at the base of the wrist.  When you’re in the plank position lowering down to Chaturanga (or half push-up), your elbows need to stay close to your body.  Your legs should remain engaged while you lower down to the floor.  Proper body positioning will keep your weight distributed throughout the body rather than using only your hands to lower your body.

One of the primary instruction cues that yoga teachers remind students during a weighted wrist pose is to focus on pressing down into the base of the thumb and index finger.  This focus helps to take the pressure off of your wrist.  Unfortunately, when starting yoga, it’s easy to lift your thumb and index finger off the mat, which causes excess tension and body weight to transfer through your wrist.

Another essential strategy to reduce wrist pain is to activate your core a little more so your body weight shifts away from your wrists.  It’s also important not to forget your legs.  Activating your legs in any pose (even a handstand) will help you lift your weight out of your hands and spread it more throughout your body.

It can also be helpful to stretch your wrist muscles and opposing movement to help relieve any of the repetitive strain you may feel when practicing yoga.

If yoga students need to reduce or avoid weight-bearing through their wrists, yoga instructors can adapt poses to help reduce wrist strain.  These poses could include weight-bearing through the forearms instead of the wrists ( cobra instead of upward facing dog, for instance) or using a closed fist (e.g. during Chaturanga) to help maintain the wrist in neutral alignment.

Finally, it may be necessary to transition to a more gentle class style with fewer wrist-loading poses.

PT Recommendations on How to Reduce Wrist Pain

As physiotherapists, we focus on understanding the root of your pain, and it’s no different if you are experiencing pain in your wrists during yoga.

It is hard to say what could be causing your wrist pain since we have not physically examined your wrists or upper body.  But assuming no specific injuries, we find one foundational concept helpful in those with wrist issues during yoga.

The concept we want to share is the importance of opposing muscles sharing an equal amount of tension and length.  Let us explain.

You have muscles on the front of your forearm (that let you grip) and muscles on the back of the forearm (that let you extend your fingers).  These muscles cross the wrist.  When one group of muscles tightens more than the other, the unfortunate result can be increased strain through your wrist joint.

We do a lot of gripping in life (writing, holding things, opening doors, lifting weights, etc.), so your wrist flexors will likely become shortened in relation to your wrist extensors.  This shortening can strain your wrist, and you may find yourself experiencing pain with yoga poses.

The solution: Start working on strengthening your wrist extensors.  This Youtube video walks you through how this should look.  Low weights are ok (typically 1-3 pounds), and focus on working up to 3 sets of 15.

Getting assessed by a physiotherapist is essential to understand what is going on.  There are many other reasons for wrist dysfunction!  Also, you may experience numbness and a tingle in your hand and fingers.  This sensation needs to be looked at by a professional, and you should not ignore it.

Key Takeaways

We hope you found this article helpful in bridging two perspectives on wrist pain during yoga.  Here are the key takeaways:

  • Engage your leg muscles while doing yoga poses so your weight can begin to move throughout the body and not just your hands
  • Increase your contact pressure through your thumb and index finger during wrist load-bearing poses so pressure through the wrist gets reduced
  • Balance the muscles that cross your wrist joint by strengthening your wrist
  • Adjust your poses to take the weight off your wrists

Next Steps

Need to dig a little deeper?  Call one of our five clinics throughout Edmonton, including RiverbendBelvedereNamao,  or Southgate.

We’re here to help you, “Love Getting Better!”