Avoid Wrist Pain in Yoga – Modify, Stretch, and Strengthen
Wrist pain is one of the most common complaints I hear from new students. Often times, we are new to the angles of the wrist that are presented in yoga. Additionally, we do not always have the forearm strength to support the weight of the body in postures like plank pose. Today, we are going to walk through different ways to relieve pain in the wrists during your yoga practice through modifications, stretching, and strengthening.
Before we dive into the different practices, let's take a quick moment to chat about alignment. Sometimes, wrist pain is caused when the weight is not being distributed into the hand properly. When we lack forearm strength, we have the tendency to lift up the fleshy part of the hand that sits between the thumb and index finger. Additionally, we want to avoid putting weight into the heel of the palm. Check out this graphic for more details:
Making sure to spread the fingers wide and follow the chart above should help to keep the right wrist alignment for a safe practice. Even as a long time student, I often thing about this chart when holding any poses on my hands to make sure I am doing it safely. Let's protect the wrists by remembering to modify, stretch, and strengthen to fit our own needs!
If you are suffering from severe wrist pain, I would highly suggest attempting modified versions of poses until achieving the wrist strength and flexibility.
Take Pressure Off the Wrists
Avoid 90° Angles - When the wrists aren't as flexible, a 90° angle can be rather difficult or painful. In a pose, such as tabletop or cobra pose, it can be helpful to walk the hands forward to reduce the angle on the the wrist (like downward facing dog). This will reduce pressure and weight on the wrist. In similar poses, you can keep the wrist straight by doing them on your fists, rather than a flat palm.
Try Forearms - Poses that are hard on the wrists, such as plank pose or downward facing dog, can be done on the forearms as a way to avoid the wrists. For example, instead of a regular plank, try a forearm plank until getting more comfortable on the hands.
Take a Knee - In plank pose, dropping to your knees will help to take a significant amount of weight away from the hands and into the legs. This will take pressure off the hands and wrists.
Use Different Props
Folded Towel or Foam Wedge - As mentioned above, increasing the angle from forearm to the top of your hand can help reduce the pressure (and pain) in the wrists. By placing a folded towel or wedge under the base of your palm, you can create a bigger angle. The aim in this is the adjust the position to make sure the wrists and the heels of your hands are higher than your fingers.
Use a Wall - As a big fan of wall-supported poses, I always suggest new students start attempting poses, such as downward facing dog, against a wall. Start by placing the hands on the wall, just below the shoulders. Begin walking the feet away from the wall, keeping the legs straight and hinging at the waist. As you hinge forward, allow the chest and head to relax and drop between the arms. With less weight heading directly into the hands, this pose can help you get comfortable with the feeling while building strength to practice on the floor.
Stretch the Wrists
Wrists are one of the few parts of the body that can be stretched pretty much anytime, anywhere.
Joint Freeing Series
Mukunda Stiles’ Joint-Freeing Series is an incredible full-body practice that is practiced in many yoga therapies to reduce joint pain. The series dedicates three movements to stretching out the wrists. Check them out:
Other Wrists Stretches
Yoga is full of wrist stretches you may not even notice. Prayer pose offers a really gentle stretch that can be practiced throughout your yoga session. Check out this quick video where I walk you through some quick stretches:
Strengthen the Wrists
Plenty of yoga poses help strengthen the wrists. More importantly, they help strengthen the forearms which assist in stabilizing the wrist. As shown above, some of the great poses for strengthening wrists include:
- Downward Facing Dog
- Plank Pose and Forearm Plank
- Cobra Pose
There are plenty others that will help you build strength. These include:
Upward Facing Dog
Start laying on your belly with the feet stretched back behind with the tops of the feet pressed into the mat. Bring the palms underneath the shoulders, fingers spread wide, and the elbows are pulled in. On an inhale, press into the palms as you pull the body slightly forward and straighten into both arms. The torso and chest should open forward and the tops of the thighs are lifted from the ground. Lift the tailbone towards the pubis, keeping the buttock relaxed and the hips squared forward.
From Downward Facing Dog, shift onto the outside edge of your left foot, and stack your right foot on top of the left. Now swing your right hand onto your right hip, turn your torso to the right as you do, and support the weight of your body on the outer left foot and left hand.Try and make a straight line with the body by not allowing the hips to drop. Options: Increase the intensity by reaching your right hand towards the ceiling or lifting your right leg.
Upward Plank Pose
Start from staff pose - seated with the legs straight out in front. Bring the hands to both sides of body, slightly behind the hips, with the fingertips pointing forward. On inhale, lift the hips up toward the ceiling, squeezing the tailbone up, and pulling the shoulder blades back. Aim to keep both legs straight the the soles of the feet on the floor. Optional: Drop the head back and continue to pull the shoulders back.
From hands and knees, place the elbows slightly in front of the shoulders and the palms directly in front of the elbows, pressing into the forearms and palms into the ground, and lifting into the tops of the shoulders. Tuck the toes and lift the knees off of the ground, reaching the tailbone up towards the ceiling. At first, keep the knees slightly bent and the heels lifted off the ground. Actively draw the shoulder blades back towards the tailbone as you begin to straighten into the legs and press the heels towards the floor.
Other Moves to Strengthen Your Wrists:
There are plenty of ways, outside of yoga poses, to focus on strengthening wrists and forearms. Of course, you could definitely build some strength by pumping iron at the gym, but I have some easier alternatives you can do at home.
Check out this quick video:
Yoga wrist pain does not need to be a problem if we learn to treat them gently and practice according to our own needs. Know that what your body, or wrists, need might change each day. Just pay attention to how you feel and modify accordingly. Also, don't forget the practice stretching and strengthening for long term wrist health.
Questions? Please comment below and I would love to help! Everyone's practice is unique and know that it's okay if you need different support or modifications. Let's chat 🙂