Wrist pain can prove to be a serious hindrance to our yoga practice. A wrist injury may seem to be the result of our yoga practice, but often that’s not the case. Discomfort in the wrist arises from the imbalanced manner in which we use our wrists for our usual activities.
Carpal tunnel syndrome is an oft heard condition these days and it occurs due to the endless phone texting and computer typing that we do. The pain in the wrist and forearm, due to this condition, can be acute. To safeguard against this we should be regularly doing wrist rotation, wrist bending, stimulating, and strengthening the wrist joint through yoga stretches.
Our wrist joint is quite flexible. This flexibility helps us to carry out various actions like typing, texting, opening doors and jam jars, and lifting objects. A lot of yoga postures also make use of the wrists extensively. Besides being flexible, our wrists are also delicate. They are intricately fashioned with numerous bones and ligaments which makes them susceptible to injuries.
Even routine activities, like using the keyboard constantly, can strain the wrists due to repetitive movements. Extensive physical stress like carrying heavy objects can cause wrist compression, unease or even pain. The well-being of our wrists is based on the strength and tone of the muscles in the forearms (and to a lesser extent the strength of our upper arm muscles and our shoulder joint) and how thoughtfully we make use of our hands in lifting weights and during other activities involving the use of the hand and wrist.
It is important to note that muscular tension comes from repetitive actions, and injuries are generally caused by the manner in which we put pressure on our hands in actions like lifting of heavy things. The top portion of the forearm gets strained due to overuse. Almost all hand-actions involve lifting the arms and bending the wrists at some angle. This stiffens the forearm and weakens the top of the wrist joint, resulting in tightness in the region of the bones at the crease of the wrist.
The possibilities for evaluating wrist pain or injury can be numerous. Let us focus in more detail on our wrist joint.
Understanding our wrists from an anatomical perspective can help us use our wrists efficiently, not just for yoga, but also in daily life. We can protect our wrist joints by practicing deliberate and controlled movement, something that our yoga teachers emphasize on.
The wrist is basically a small joint composed of delicate tissues including ligaments and tendons. The ligaments’ function is holding the wrist bones together and the tendons facilitate movement by connecting the muscles of the forearm to the fingers.
Eight small carpal bones make up the wrist, which together form the carpus. They are firmly connected to ensure stability and movement. Observing the hand, we can see that the palm has a concave surface. This helps to create support and for actions like cupping water in the hands. This concavity creates a channel which all the tendons and ligaments traverse through from the forearm to the hand. This channel is referred to as the Carpal Tunnel.
The carpal bones attach themselves to the radius and the ulna, the forearm bones. The five metacarpal bones of the hand also link to meet the carpal bones. At the wrist joint, there is a mesh of ligaments that interconnect all these bones which allows a wide range of hand movements while maintaining stability as well.
It is important to keep the wrist joints in action, in other words, we need to keep them moving. This keeps them healthy as mobility maintains the fluidity of the gel-like material in the joint. This gel-like material will eventually harden and constrict our range of motion if we do not maintain mobility in the wrist joint.
Most of the time, we make limited use of the wrist joint. For instance, our movement is restricted to a slight angle of deflection while pushing a door open. However, our yoga practice gives us conscious and controlled movement, where some asanas may involve bending the wrists at 90 degrees while others may require us to support our body weight on them. On the bright side, this keeps our wrist joint healthy because we keep them in motion. But on the other hand, we become susceptible to wrist pain or discomfort, if the supporting arm muscles have not been strengthened. .
If we take a closer look at the wrist’s anatomy, we find that the radius makes frequent contact with the carpal bones. Anatomically, the radius is placed obliquely, on the outside of the forearm. But in asanas like ‘Adho Mukha Svanasana’ or ‘Chaturanga Dandasana’ where the palms are placed on the floor, the radius rotates in such a way around the ulna so that it is towards the inside.
Because of the intricate arrangement of bones, ligaments, and muscles, alignment of these often gets disturbed during weight-bearing poses. This can give rise to wrist pain and discomfort. There are two other types of conditions that one can encounter, the ulno-carpal abutment syndrome and tendonitis.
The first one occurs because of undue pressure at the point where the ulna and the carpal bones converge on the side of the wrist in the same line of the little finger. In weight-bearing poses like the Downward-Facing Dog, this can occur as the wrist is bent towards the side of the little finger. The solution for this is to keep strengthening the arm muscles, so undue weight and stress do not peter down to the wrist.
Tendonitis, the second condition, happens due to inflammation in the tendons because of improper alignment and weight transfer in poses where the wrist is fully stretched, as in Chaturanga Dandasana. The inflammation in tendons is a result of imbalance in muscle tone which occurs in hand-intensive actions.
We put the full weight on our wrists while our fingers and the top portion of the wrist are in motion. The solution for this is keep strengthening the arm muscles and keep them fully engaged while bearing weight on the arms and hands. Also, do as many repetitions of such weight bearing postures as you comfortably can. Stop if you feel stressed.
The arrangement of bones in the wrists supports the distribution of weight. The strongest bones shift weight directly to the radius (forearm bone) from the thumb and the index & middle fingers. The radius further passes on the weight to the humerus, which is the upper arm bone.
Ever noticed a small hump at the heel of your hand, in line with the little finger? This bone is called the pisiform. The ring and the little fingers link themselves to this bone. This is the part of the wrist where the ulna is placed. The ulna is not meant for weight-bearing, rather it enables rotation of the forearm.
The ulnar artery and nerve run through a gap right next to the pisiform on the inside and are sheltered by a small sheath of fascia. Constantly putting weight on the heel of our hands causes soreness in the soft tissues of the wrist. This gives rise to swelling. Stressing the ulnar nerve might put us at risk of damaging our wrist. It may also lead to inflammation of the carpal tunnel. Hence, we see that the hand is not built to handle pressure and bear weight on it’s heel.
During our yoga practice, we need to to form the correct alignment with the help of our shoulders, elbows, and wrists. To avoid compression and for the joints to obtain proper support from the muscles, it is important to align our bones correctly. Be sure to keep certain points in mind while performing weight-bearing poses.
To begin with, our wrists should be shoulder-width apart. If they are too wide, we lose strength and if they are too close, we will scrunch up right from the shoulders. We should let all our muscles and joints support one another by bringing all bones and joints in alignment, stacked one over the other.
When doing weight bearing on our arms, we should not allow our elbows to rotate outwards nor twist inwards too much. A slight inward rotation gets the full arm in alignment. If the shoulder joint and upper arm muscles (biceps and triceps) are strong, it is easy to maintain precise arm alignment. Controlled movement becomes easier when we do not have to rely on the wrist and shoulder joints alone.
During poses, we need to fan out our fingers and press the fingers onto the ground. This helps to distribute the weight evenly and remove the burden off the wrists. If facing the front, our middle finger should be pointing straight ahead. The role of the thumb is also crucial for balance and strength. Practise pressing the side of the thumb onto the ground so that it balances the weight and takes the pressure off the wrists.
If the wrists are weak, injured, or hurt take it easy during yoga practice and concentrate on healing the body first. Any pain or discomfort is an indication of damage to a portion of the wrist. It is advised to let the wrist joint rest and heal. Abstain from performing the poses that put any kind of stress on the wrists.
Focus instead on strengthening and stretching exercises for about a week. The ‘Prayer Pose’ helps us gain flexibility. To practice the pose, bring your palms together at your heart center with fingers pointing upwards. Gradually, lower the hands so that the forearms rise up, parallel to the ground.
Practice another simple exercise to stretch the muscles at the top of the forearm and strengthen its lower side. Start with a loose fist in both hands with palms facing upwards. Rotate the wrists to form curls. This is an active stretch that requires one to engage the muscles without the help of any props.
Further, one can relieve inflammation and discomfort by using ice or mild heat. These therapies can help restore the wrist’s balance so that we can perform our daily activities.
Also, being attentive to the equipment and props one uses while doing yoga is of immense help. Using the right yoga mat, for instance, can help us avoid compression. If we practice yoga at home, we should use a standard mat on the floor instead of the carpet. Outside of yoga, one can make small changes like using a wrist pad while we work on the keyboard.
Let’s be conscious that the wrist joint is in constant use in everyday life. Tend to it !