Do your wrists hurt during yoga?

Yoga is a wonderful practice that benefits both the body and mind. However, many practitioners experience wrist pain or discomfort, especially during weight-bearing poses.

Wrist pain in yoga can be really frustrating, and without proper care for our wrists, we may face limitations in our practice. Not ideal when we’re trying to maintain discipline and stay consistent.

In yoga, we often focus on achieving advanced poses like arm balances (for example, crow pose). Yoga asana also involves many weight-bearing poses like Ardho Mukha Svanasana (Downward Dog) and Phalakasana (Plank Pose). However, one essential foundation that’s often overlooked is our wrist joint.

If you’re dealing with wrist issues during your yoga practice, don’t worry! This article provides six actionable tips to help you alleviate wrist pain and hopefully prevent wrist injuries in yoga, and continue enjoying a fulfilling yoga journey.

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Key Takeaways

Here are key tips to care for your wrists in yoga:

  • 1. Consult a Doctor: Before starting yoga or if you have existing wrist issues, seek advice from a physician to avoid aggravating the condition.

  • 2. Stretch and Strengthen: Regularly strengthen and stretch your wrists to build their resilience and prevent strain.

  • 3. Warm-up: Prioritize wrist warm-up exercises before your practice to prepare the wrists for weight-bearing poses.

  • 4. Align with Care: Learn correct hand alignment for weight-bearing poses to avoid unnecessary strain.

  • 5. Props for Support: Consider using props like blankets or yoga wedges to provide support during weight-bearing poses.

  • 6. Take Breaks: Give your wrists rest and relaxation to aid in their recovery and overall well-being.

  • 7. Develop a Strong Core: Prevent your wrists from bearing the full load by maintaining strength in the core to help lift up the body.

  • 8. Maintain a Good Grip: Emply the entire hand in postures where the hands are weight-bearing to prevent carpal tunnel syndrome.

  • 9. Try Another Class: Focus on a yoga class that doesn’t use the wrists so much, like Yin or Restorative Yoga.

By caring for your wrists, you’ll lay a strong foundation for a safe and sustainable yoga practice, enabling you to progress toward your goals with ease.

9 Tips for When Your Wrists Hurt During Yoga

Below are my top 10 tips for taking care of those important wrists. They are in no particular order, with the exception of Tip 1. That comes first and foremost.

Tip 1: Consult a Physician

Before diving into the tips, it’s essential to emphasize the importance of consulting a physician if you experience persistent or severe wrist pain, or have incurred a wrist injury recently.

While a yoga instructor will have some anatomical knowledge, we are by no means experts (unless we have a related degree or are an MD). A medical professional can help identify any underlying issues and provide appropriate guidance to ensure a safe practice. A physical therapist will be able to provide a set of exercises unique to your needs.

Tip 2: Stretch and Strengthen Your Wrists

Healthy wrists require flexibility and strength. Incorporate regular wrist stretching and strengthening exercises into your routine to improve wrist resilience. Here are some effective exercises to try that use wrist extension and flexion:

  • Fist to Inward Curl: Make a loose fist and gently curl it inward, feeling the stretch along the upper forearm. Repeat several times.

  • Fist to Outward Curl: Face the palm down and curl the fist upward, feeling a stretch along the lower forearm. Repeat several times.

Tip 3: Warm-Up Your Wrists

Warming up your wrists is crucial before starting your yoga practice. Try these simple and effective warm-up exercises:

  • Loose Wrist Circles: Make a loose fist and gently circle your wrists in both directions.

  • Fingers Splaying: Curl your fingers into a loose fist and gently hold the wrist in a neutral straight position with the opposite hand. Open and close your fingers several times.

Tip 4: Mindful Hand Alignment

Proper alignment of the wrists is essential during weight-bearing poses to avoid wrist strain and carpal tunnel syndrome. Follow these tips for correct hand alignment:

  • Spread Your Fingers Wide: Create a broader, more stable base by spreading your fingers wide on the mat. Think of it like the difference between teetering on stilettoes and walking elegantly in wedge heels. The wider the foundation, the greater the distribution of weight.

  • Align the Wrist Crease: Ensure the wrist crease is parallel to the mat’s edge to distribute weight evenly. Some instructors cue their yoga students to have their index finger pointing directly forward to the edge of the mat. However, this may not be the correct alignment for everyone as it could result in compression on the medial nerve that runs between the carpal bones or cause soft tissue around the flexor tendons in the palms to swell.  In my case, when my wrist creases are parallel to the mat edge, my index finger points out a little bit. This feels much more comfortable than when my index fingers are pointing directly forwards.

Tip 5: Utilize Props for Support

Props can be incredibly helpful in reducing wrist strain during yoga practice. Consider using the following props:

  • Blanket Support: Elevate your hand slightly on a folded blanket, just behind the heel or under the heel, to reduce pressure on the wrists.

  • Yoga Wedge: A yoga wedge can provide more robust support during weight-bearing poses.

Both props will allow for weight distribution of the upper body to be spread more evenly throughout the hand, rather than down onto the base of the palm. These props are a great way to both alleviate and prevent wrist pain as you work on strengthening the wrists over time.

Tip 6: Listen to Your Body and Modify Poses

Listening to your body is essential in any yoga practice. Pay attention to these cues:

  • Distinguish Discomfort from Pain: If a pose causes pain, modify or skip it. Discomfort may be part of the stretching process, but pain signals potential harm.

  • Use Props for Modification: Utilize props like blocks or straps to modify poses and ease pressure on the wrists.

YouAligned has some fantastic tips (with pictures) on how to modify common yoga poses that make use of the wrists.

Tip 7: Work on strengthening your core

Poses like Phalakasana (plank pose), Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-facing dog), Chaturanga Dandasana (four-limbed staff pose), and most arm balances are weight-bearing postures. A weak core will exacerbate the pressure bearing down on your wrists. Therefore, it is essential to work on strengthening the core muscles so that weight is not dumping down into the wrists. Try the following two poses:

  • Catur Svanasana(Dolphin Pose): Personally, I find this pose perfect for bringing awareness to the core. You really begin to understand how the core is pivotal in lifting up the hips and reaching them back behind you – something that translates later in Downward Dog. If the version with straight legs is too much for today, drop the knees to the floor and work on keeping the core engaged.
  • Navasana (Boat pose): A pose we all love to hate because it can be quite challenging, yet one that is fantastic for strengthening the core (and also helping to alleviate lower back pain). Take this one in stages – start with your feet on the floor, then work towards lifting the feet up before then aiming for a straight-legged boat pose.

Tip 8: Work on your grip

For any yoga pose that requires the whole hand to be on the mat, working on your grip is essential. Oftentimes we tend to just lay our palms on the mat and forget about engaging the fingers or center of the palm. However, this is the hidden secret to alleviating wrist pain.

Think of your hand as having four main corners: the base of the thumb; the lower edge of the palm opposite the thumb base; just below your pinky finger, and just below your index.

After spreading your fingers wide, the first step is to press gently down into the base of the index finger and thumb. This prevents all the weight from loading into the base of the palm. then, gently grip your fingers – pull the fingertips gently back towards you while still keeping the knuckles pressing down into the mat.  You are now activating the entire hand, ensuring you have good grip strength.

Tip 9: Try a different class

Chronic wrist pain is more common in more vigorous yoga classes, such as Vinyasa Yoga and Ashtanga Yoga. Though the aim of the game here is to minimize the risk of wrist pain as much as possible, what are you to do when your wrists already hurt?

You don’t have to forgo your asana practice entirely. Classes like Yin Yoga can still provide the movement you crave. Restorative yoga can help the body to deeply relax, reducing any built-up stress you might feel from the pain. Check out this blog post here which goes into more detail about the two different classes, and how to use props to help in your Yin Yoga practice.

On the left is a list of 9 tips from Ellie smith Yoga regarding how to help wrist pain in yoga. On the right is an image of someone holding their left wrist with their right hand, palm facing up. Overlaying that is a light drawing of tendons, muscles, and bone in the wrist.

Reasons why your wrists hurt during yoga practice

When I was 9, my Gran made me a hot water bottle cover for Christmas. He was a brown felt bear in a pair of blue dungarees with a yellow pocket and red straps. I loved that bear. So much so that I lovingly named him… Bear. I’d request a hot water bottle for bedtime, even in the summer, just so Bear could keep me company.

I still have him. He is comfortably tucked away next to the sewing machine because a couple of years ago, he fell apart. Though I loved him, I had not kept up with his upkeep.

My wrists (yes, both of them) have suffered from the same lack of care in my asana practice. This stems from:

  • Not warming up my wrists correctly

  • Improper form and alignment to suit my body

  • Not building vital foundations for strength and flexibility to support my wrists.

  • Lack of varying or modifying poses (instead forcing myself to do the “advanced” versions because “advanced” meant “more worthy” in my head)

  • Not knowing the difference between pain and discomfort and ignoring the signals of the former from my wrists.

This led to persistent tenderness in the wrist and hand, and eventually to Carpal Tunnel Syndrome which took months to heal. Inevitably, it rendered me frustrated for:

  • Not being able to practice yoga for several weeks

  • Yet again not listening to my body and instead falling victim to my ego

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is painful. You never know how much you use your wrists until they start screaming at you! I couldn’t practice asana, I couldn’t write, I couldn’t type, and (perhaps worst of all for Bear), I couldn’t thread a needle let alone stitch a yellow pocket to a new set of blue dungarees for an equally worn-out bear.

The Importance of Avoiding Wrist Pain in Yoga

In yoga, specifically with regard to asana practice, there is a lot of talk about how to release stiffness in a certain area or how to alleviate pain in another, or perhaps even how to press up into a perfectly aligned handstand. These are important and admirable goals to strive towards. Increasingly sedentary lifestyles mean we need to know how to release tight hips so that we retain our mobility as we age. That same lifestyle can cause pain in certain areas, so knowing how to counteract a painful lower back with yoga is vital for both physical and mental well-being. Pressing up into a handstand doesn’t necessarily make us a more enlightened, liberated being, but it sure does prove that we have persevered in the face of fear and failure, and it literally gives us a new perspective on life.

What is often missing in classes is an emphasis on the foundations needed to be able to achieve these goals with relative success. And this might be a little controversial to say, but while many of us are focused on being able to do the splits or touch our toes without grimacing, it is my belief that one fundamental foundation that needs to be in place before much else can be achieved is having happy wrists.

Lay the Foundations for the Tougher Poses

Let’s say your goal is to do the splits. Wonderful! On your way down there, you’re going to need to lean on your hands a bit, perhaps those paws will be propped up on some blocks depending on your proportions.

Even preparatory poses for the splits require the use of the wrists, especially in that they will be weight-bearing at some point. One preparatory pose is Ardha Hanumanasana (half-splits), as is Anjaneyasana (low lunge), both shown below. And before we move into these poses, we need to warm up the body through some sun salutations, the majority of which are done with some weight on the wrists.

So, as you can see, the journey to the splits is quicker when we lay the foundations for pain-free wrists during yoga practice.

FAQs on Wrist Pain in Yoga

1. Can wrist pain be avoided in yoga?

Yes, by following proper warm-up exercises, strengthening the wrists, and maintaining correct hand alignment and grip, you can prevent or alleviate wrist pain during yoga.

2. Should I consult a doctor if my wrists hurt during yoga?

Absolutely. If you experience persistent or severe wrist pain, consulting a physician is essential to rule out any underlying issues and ensure a safe yoga practice.

3. How often should I do wrist-strengthening exercises?

Aim to include wrist-strengthening exercises in your routine at least two to three times per week to improve wrist resilience and reduce strain.

4. Can props really help with wrist pain?

Yes, props like blankets, blocks, or yoga wedges can provide additional support and reduce the pressure on your wrists during weight-bearing poses.

5. What if I experience discomfort during a pose?

Listen to your body. Discomfort is normal during stretching, but if a pose causes sudden pain, back out of it. Modify or, better yet, skip it to prevent potential injuries.

6. Are wrist warm-up exercises necessary before every yoga session?

Yes, wrist warm-up exercises are essential before each session as they prepare your wrists for weight-bearing poses and reduce the risk of injury.

A Final Word About Wrist Pain in Yoga

Unhappy wrists can seep into every facet of our daily lives. They are a part of the body we pay little attention to until they demand it. In yoga, especially in the West, we feel a need to rush to the finish line.

But to get there (it doesn’t exist but still, let’s imagine), the quickest and safest route is through strong and steady foundations.

The wrist is a fundamental foundation for the rest of our practice. Looking after your wrists through regular strengthening and stretching, enough warming up, correct weight-bearing alignment, suitable modification of poses, and sufficient resting time is a great start to a safe and sustainable home yoga practice.

With these six top tips, you can address wrist discomfort and build a strong foundation for a safe and enjoyable practice. Remember to consult a physician if needed, and always listen to your body. Embrace these tips, and let your yoga journey be one of balance, joy, and well-being.

If you’re keen to get started with yoga at home, but are a little anxious about how, then be sure to click the button below to get my free guide telling you how to do just that.

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Until next week, much love,