dr. robin armstrong: avoiding wrist pain in yoga
Like my tennis coach once said, “It’s all in the wrist.” With our technology and computer-centered lifestyles, this statement couldn’t be more true off the tennis court. Most of us spend at least some of our day perched in front of the computer with our wrists cocked, making millions of repetitive, tiny movements with our fingers. In fact, the average computer user moves their fingers up to 15 miles per day. The muscles that move our fingers lie in our forearms, and the tendons cross over our wrist to move our fingers. These strenuous “finger hikes” often result in wrist discomfort. This problem may be lying quiet until we decide to give it our all at an Ashtanga class, or hold handstand for 3 minutes.
Prepare for Yoga
If you work with your hands or spend a lot of time using your computer, take your yoga off the mat. Here are two essential stretches to keep your wrists happy and prepare you for your yoga practice:
1. Read my palm
With palm facing up and your elbow straight, use your other hand to gently pull your fingers down towards the floor until you feel a nice stretch in your forearm. Hold for at least 30 seconds, and stretch throughout your day.
2. Check out my ring
With palm facing down and your elbow straight, use your other hand to gently pull your fingers down towards the floor until you feel a nice stretch in the back of your arm. Hold for at least 30 seconds.
Share the Load
When we bear weight on our wrists in yoga, such as in chaturanga/plank or downward dog, a lot of weight tends to go into the small carpal bones of the wrist. Your fingers were made for more than dialing a phone or showing off your ‘jazz hands’ on the dance floor. Your fingers can also help support your wrist. When your palms are on the floor, spread your fingers wide so that the balls of the palms – where the fingers meet the palm – press into the mat. This includes rooting down with the base of the thumb. This action spreads the load throughout the palm rather than directing it towards the wrist.
Yoga in the Lab
Yoga can even help wrist pain. Science has shown that yoga can be helpful for a type of wrist and hand pain called Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. The carpal tunnel is a passage formed by our wrist bones (carpals) and surrounding ligaments that allows the median nerve to travel from our forearm to our hand. If this space is decreased due to swelling, scar tissue, or compression, wrist pain and numbness can develop. In one study, participants were prescribed an 8 week yoga program targeted specifically to relieve their Carpal Tunnel symptoms. They were compared to a group who did not participate in the yoga program. At the end of 8 weeks the carpal tunnel yogis had increased grip strength, decreased pain, and decreased nerve irritation.