Musicians' Health Collective

Musicians' Health Collective: Supporting the health of musicians

Why Do My Wrists Hurt In Yoga? Part 1

One of the questions I'm most frequently asked is why yoga makes our wrists hurt so much (at least with the dynamic vinyasa styles).   First thing, let's look at the small bones of the wrist and what's going on in there.

Can you tell I'm excited about my new model skeleton?

Can you tell I'm excited about my new model skeleton?

Our wrist is a somewhat delicate joint, at least in comparison to the foot, which has a very similar structure.  The eight carpal bones are very small and fit between the radius/ulna and the metacarpals.  (The phalanges are what we think of as the finger bones, but clearly, fingers start from the wrist, not the knuckles!)

We flex the wrist to type and text, we extend the wrist to do plank and down dog.  

We flex the wrist to type and text, we extend the wrist to do plank and down dog.  

It also means that we don't have the same range in the opposite direction that some people do.

It also means that we don't have the same range in the opposite direction that some people do.

There are many different styles of yoga, but the most common styles these days emphasize vinyasas or the sequence of plank, chaturanga, to upward facing dog.  Even if those terms don't mean anything to you, think plank to pushup, repeated over and over.  (Or watch this video, in which the model is hyper mobile in her elbows and keeps her neck in full extension the whole time….ouchies!)  So why does this sequence hurt?  Well, most musicians keep their wrists in partial flexion, whether they are desk bound, keyboardists, strings, woodwinds, etc.  That partial flexion adds up over the years, especially if we never use the opposite range of motion- extension.  The tissues of the palm, hand, and forearm, stay partially contracted, and then limit our range of extension.  One day, you decide to try yoga, which demands a lot of wrist extension, and then your forearms hurt because you simply don't have the range to perform that motion.  Make sense?    Staying in one position for a long time (like 15-20 years, many hours a day) keeps the muscles and connective tissue in that position- making it difficult to adapt to the opposite shape of extension.

My wrists are sometimes tight- you can see that it's hard for my thumb to fully rest on the floor.

My wrists are sometimes tight- you can see that it's hard for my thumb to fully rest on the floor.

Let's get more specific- yoga planks require full wrist extension (meaning that the distance between the back of the hand and forearm is 90 degrees) whereas down dog is more of a 60 degree angle, depending on many factors.  

Notice that the angle between the forearm and wrist is acute, whereas the other is a right angle?

Notice that the angle between the forearm and wrist is acute, whereas the other is a right angle?

Image test from the Melt Method, which has a terrific hand and foot kit!

Image test from the Melt Method, which has a terrific hand and foot kit!

So then, imagine repeating full extension over and over again when you don't actually have that full range, or you only have it on one side.  BOOM!  Your wrists hurt after class.   More importantly, let's test the range you have in your wrists right now, shall we?  Bring your forearms together in front of your chest, then allow your wrists to extend comfortably.  Don't force it.  Do your wrists naturally open to a 180 degree angle?  Or is one side more acute (hello left hand!)?  That explains why full extension might aggravate things!  I'll talk a bit more about poses that are wrist intensive next time, and how to help your wrists out, and possibly gain more range in the long run.