Wrist protection and alignemnt in yoga
During yoga class it is very common that high percentage of students feel mild pain or discomfort at their wrist. With practice as the wrist gets stronger the pain will disappear. However if you have problem with your wrist (carpel tunnel syndrome, arthritis etc.) you have to be more cautious about your practice. Below you can read some important clues about how you can practice safely to avoid injuries, or if you have an injured wrist how you can cure it with yoga.
First let see why short term disturbance in wrist can occur during practice. Most people spend the majority of their day with their wrists in mild extension (i.e. driving, typing, etc.), which gradually leads to the loss of the ability to move easily and safely into full wrist extension. Asanas like Bakasana (Crane Pose) and Chaturanga, not only fully extend your wrist, but also put all your body weight into your wrist which can easily result in strain when you have an untrained wrist.
Furthermore, this constant mild extension during habitual life makes the tops of the hand, wrist and forearm area tense from habitual overuse. Meanwhile, the bottom of the hand, wrist and forearm are weak and underused. Over time, the imbalance in the muscle tone can lead to more serious problem like carpal tunnel, tendonitis and other forms of chronic pain in the wrist. Here comes yoga in the picture as the asanas works on the opposite muscles and directions which are used during the day, restoring the balances in the muscles and joints.
And now lets see how to practice for optimal wrist health
1, Warming up the wrist
Before practice do not miss warming up the wrist, creating space in the joints by stretching and rotating them.
2, Wrist and palm alignment
At arm balances beginner yogis tend to bring the weight towards the little finger, releasing and many times lifting the inner part of the palm. What’s more they also keep all the weights on the heel of their palm without distributing it. If we consistently put weight on the heel of the hand, we irritate the nerves and soft tissues of the wrist causing the tissue to swell. These are all wrong habits. On the picture below you can see how should be the ideal weight distribution on the palms.
3, Externally rotate shoulders, release tension in shoulders, align elbows.
Working with the alignment of your shoulders, arms, and hands can also help take strain off your wrists. In Downward Dog, for example, many students take virtually all of their weight on the heels of their hands. Instead, bring back the body weight towards the legs and the heels, equally distributing the weight between the upper and lower limbs.
4, Modify the wrist extension till your wrist get stronger
On hands and knees, you can also vary the degree of extension of your wrists. If placing the heels of your hands directly below your shoulders feels too intense, you can move your hands out a little in front of your shoulders, reducing the amount of extension. For example Adho Mukha Svanasana puts some weight on the wrists but doesn’t force them into 90 degrees of extension, so the joints feel more open and are less likely to be painful than in full-extension poses. Downward Dog provides an excellent way to build arm and shoulder strength, thus helping prepare you for Plank, Handstand, and other arm balances.
5, The key: Strong core
Strong core can increase the efficiency of the rotator cuff muscles. These muscles stabilize the shoulders and can thus decrease the load that is transferred to your wrists. On the other side, low core strength or failure to engage the core in poses like Chaturanga Dandasana can lead to decreased trunk and shoulder stability. If the core is weak, strong shear forces transfer across the wrist, especially during transitions between poses. So picture the ubiquitous Down Dog-Chaturanga-Up Dog-Down Dog sequence. Each time you repeat it, your wrists bear weight throughout. Over time and without proper support, this can lead to the injuries described above. But when effort is well dispersed throughout the core and shoulders in a vinyasa-based practice, that force in the wrists is minimized.
If your wrist or core need to get stronger or you already have serious wrist problem do modifications until the condition persist. For example Adho Mukta Svanasana or Chaturanga Dandasana you can do on forearms.