Before beginning a rigorous 90-minute yoga class with one of my yoga teachers, Adam Whiting, we sat on a block, hands flexed straight out in front us, making “fireworks” with our fingers (think about tapping your thumbs to the tips of your other four fingers briefly, then shooting your fingers open wide like a firework is coming out of them, then repeating that action as fast as you can). It’s an exercise that looks silly but pretty immediately will have your fingers, hands, and forearms screaming.
It was the first time I learned from a teacher who truly incorporated physical therapy-esque exercises and protocols into a fitness class, and it was a game changer. Making fireworks is just one part of Whiting’s wrist prep that he designates to the upfront of each of his classes; classes that spend a great deal more time in planks or arm balances call for an even more extensive wrist prep sequence than the general flow he provides.
It was around the same time I learned that Whiting (a former #WeGotGoals guest, by the way) took a lot of his wrist prep work from physical therapists and physicians, that I also learned of a few pretty serious wrist injuries within my home yoga studio – among teachers and students. One teacher spent months creating a wrist-focused workshop that breaks down ways to modify a practice, helps attendees understand what common wrist injuries come from, and how to strengthen the wrist on your own to, hopefully, one day not feel the same pain during practice. Semi-regularly on the schedule at Bare Feet Power Yoga, you’ll find a class called No Dogs Allowed, a class where – you guessed it – no downward facing dogs or heavily wrist-focused postures are called. And the class is wildly popular.
All this got me thinking, what else don’t I know about practicing yoga with wrist pain? Or for that matter, what could yoga be doing to cause wrist pain in the first place that could be prevented? I chatted with Dr. Mary Kate Casey, PT, DPT, Owner and Founder of Prep Performance Center to learn more.
Most commonly, Dr. Casey sees wrist injuries in the form of a “dull pain which could be cause of bone, ligament or cartilage damage, sharp shooting pain which could be an acute tendinitis or muscle sprain, [or] last but not least, painful clicking in the joint [that] could indicate a tear in the TFCC which is a disc like piece of cartilage in the lateral aspect of the wrist,” she says.
Yoga by itself isn’t bad for the wrist, but overuse (like with anything) can lead to injury. There are a few key ways, Dr. Casey explained, that one can avoid overuse in yoga to manage/repair current pain as well as prevent future injury.
Here’s what you should STOP doing to reduce or avoid wrist pain in yoga.
This is quite simple, as Dr. Casey outlines. If you’re having pain, seek solutions quickly! Don’t keep doing the things that cause repetitive stress, especially with poor mechanical overload, she explains. If you’re a regular yoga practitioner, set up time one-on-one with a yoga teacher you trust to look at your alignment and practice some modifications you can use during a regular class.
“If you are experiencing pain outside of yoga during your everyday activities, using a brace to stabilize the joint and unload repetitive stress would be a great way to get back to yoga,” says Dr. Casey. “Check in with a physical therapist for an individual program to help you learn stretching and strengthening activities as well as proper weight bearing mechanics to avoid re-injury.”
Here’s what you should START doing to reduce or avoid wrist pain in yoga.
Outside of getting an expert look at your wrist, there are things you can do to keep up with your wrist health.
- Strengthen your shoulder blade muscles. Muscles around the shoulder girdle, and especially the rotator cuff, deserve a lot of attention both in mobility and strengthening to increase proximal stabilization (stabilization closer to your center). That in turn leads to greater stabilization down your kinetic chain. If proper shouler and scapular stabilization are not there, “weight-bearing activities can cause excess stress at the wrist,” Dr. Casey said reiterated.
- Focus on your wrists specifically prior to movement. Spend time whenever you can prior to yoga doing exercises that both warm up the wrists and forearms, as well as stretch them, Dr. Casey recommends. This post has some great examples of dedicated wrist prep movements with photos.
- Examine and re-examine your posture. This is especially applicable in dandasana, or plank pose. “Things you can think about are shifting weight so your elbows and shoulders are stacked directly over your wrists, changing the angle of your wrists or using your fists for a neutral angle,” Dr. Casey says.
And if that still doesn’t alleviate pain, use props to your advantage, like a wedge block, for example.
Finally, Dr. Casey recommends always coming back to core, a key component in posture, to ensure you’re working the correct muscles and in the right ways for each posture.