Most of us don't give much thought to our wrists - until they start aching, that is. However, if you're an aspiring yogi with a passion for downward-facing dog, you might experience the occasional cramp or twinge in the wrist area. To stay on the mat and keep the pain away, use these strengthening and protection strategies for healthier, more stable wrist joints.
Common Causes of Wrist Discomfort
Your wrists are already pretty flexible. They help you pick up objects, open pickle jars, turn doorknobs and maintain your favorite yoga positions. However, they're also delicate and made up of numerous bones and ligaments. You might stress your wrists through normal everyday activities including yoga.
For instance, if your job keeps you tied to a keyboard all day, you might experience repetitive stress injuries to your wrists. Labor-intensive jobs can also result in wrist compression and discomfort, especially if you're carrying heavy objects. Add a strenuous physical routine to your plate especially if you neglect proper alignment and you might start to dread your workouts.
However, you don't have to pack up your mat and towel just yet. Yoga poses are designed to strengthen your body, expand your flexibility and keep you centered. Plus, remember that some poses are for compression, like fish pose, so not all compression is necessarily bad; you just need to worry about the kind that causes you pain. If you give your wrists the proper attention, you won't have to worry about discomfort.
For chronic or severe wrist pain, please seek the help of a medical professional.
Understanding Wrist Anatomy
You might not give much thought to how your wrist works. After all, you can't see the bones, tendons and ligaments. However, if you understand wrist anatomy, you can protect your joints and use your body more effectively in yoga. Your instructor emphasizes "controlled movement" for a reason, and you'll gain more control if you know how your wrist functions.
Your wrist consists of several ligaments and a short joint head that rotates in a socket. If your wrist bones come into contact with your radius (the short bone in your forearm), an impingement occurs. You might experience pain because of this joint compression and contact.
Impingement typically happens during yoga poses that put weight on your wrists. Downward dog, plank pose and similar poses are hard on the wrists, so they might become the most difficult after a wrist injury. If you have loose joints, or if your muscles are too tight compared to the flexibility in your ligaments, this imbalance can also lead to discomfort.
Strengthening the Surrounding Muscles
Your joints move independently, but they rely on surrounding tissue for support. Strong wrists coupled with weak forearms can lead to pain during yoga and similar activities. However, if you strengthen those muscles, it'll become easier to control your movements.
Try wrist-strengthening exercises that also strengthen the muscles in the forearm. You probably know how to do a bicep curl, for example. Use that same motion (with a lighter weight or with no weight at all) to do wrist curls. Keep your forearm level as you flex your wrists so you don't put extra strain on any single muscle or tendon in your wrist. Pay attention to any discomfort you feel and give yourself a break if your wrists or forearms get too fatigued.
You might also use a stress ball to tone your wrists. Not only will you strengthen your muscles, but you'll release any pent-up frustration you might feel so you can thoroughly enjoy your next yoga session. When you approach yoga with a clear mind and a positive attitude, you get more fulfillment from the experience.
Coping with Discomfort
If your wrists hurt during or after yoga poses, take care of your body first. Avoid poses that force you to put weight on your wrists until you can strengthen them. Pain suggests that you've caused damage to part of your wrist, so rest the joint while you devise a strategy to prevent the problem from happening in the future.
Spend at least a week on strengthening exercises, but alternate those sessions with stretches. For instance, the prayer pose helps develop flexibility through flexion. Put your palms together, fingers up, in front of your face. Slowly lower your hands toward your chest so that your forearms become parallel with the ground.
You can also stretch your wrists using a table top or the back of a chair. Place your fingers on the surface and flex your wrist. The surface will create tension and help you control the stretch. Do just a few repetitions of each stretch, but consider spacing them out throughout the day.
Using ice and heat to control inflammation and discomfort can also help you recover from wrist injuries. Combined with rest, these therapies restore your wrist's balance and allow you to do daily activities without anxiety.
If you can't stand the thought of missing yoga for a week, focus on less stressful poses. Yoga routines that focus on gentle stretches and healthy mindfulness can be just as rejuvenating as the more intense variety.
Getting Back to Your Mat
After you've stretched, strengthened and rested your wrists, it's time to hit the mat again. However, you'll focus on creating the right alignment through your shoulders, elbows and wrists. If your bones are in proper alignment, your muscles will support your joints so you don't have impingement or compression issues.
First, when you do weight-bearing yoga poses, keep your wrists as far apart as your shoulders. You'll create a straight line that allows all of your muscles and joints to support one another. You'll find it easier to make controlled movements without relying on your wrist or shoulder joints to pick up the slack.
On the mat, spread your fingers and press the pads of your fingers into the material. It might feel strange at first, but you're helping to distribute the weight and support your wrists. If you're facing forward, your middle fingers should point ahead of you.
You might find yourself neglecting your thumb. It's easy to do, but your thumb can actually help you find balance and strength. Press the side of it into the mat so it stabilizes your wrist during weight-bearing poses. Again, you might feel awkward at first, but practice will make this technique second nature.
Start with simple yoga poses that allow you to focus on your body and what it's telling you. Don't try more advanced poses until you have the hand position down. If you're struggling to perform the actual pose, try modified poses so you're not putting your body through too much stress. For instance, do downward-facing dog against a wall instead of on the mat.
Checking Your Equipment
Some yoga mats can actually encourage wrist compression. For instance, if you love doing yoga at home before work, move to a standard mat on a hard floor instead of your carpeted living room. Plush surfaces create sinkage meaning the heels of your hands sink into the material. The added flexion puts too much pressure on your wrists.
If you think your wrist issues stem from activities outside of yoga, you can change up your equipment there, as well. A wrist pad for your keyboard at work, for instance, will provide support and prevent unwanted stress on the wrist joint. You can also use wrist stabilizers to prevent repetitive stress injuries.
You need your wrists in perfect working order to pursue the physical activities you love. By caring for your wrists, you promote whole-body healthfulness and gain more control over your movement. To learn more about yoga and its possibilities for spiritual fulfillment, you can find out here on Gaia.