Great post from David Keil on Yoganatomy.com
Three Common Postures
Let’s take a look at three common postures that are associated with wrist pain and consider some key places we should look at.
Oh yeah, it’s the one that gets blamed for everything, including wrist pain in yoga. Like most postures, chaturanga requires a balance of strength and flexibility. OK, wait a minute, flexibility? Where in chaturanga do you need flexibility?
Actually, there is only one place where you really need flexibility, THE WRIST! Most people should be flexible enough in their wrist for this pose, but if you’re someone who uses your hands a lot, say, typing, grasping, pulling, you may have short, tight hand and wrist flexors.
Having tight hand and wrist flexors could make it difficult to extend (technically hyperextend) your wrist as needed in a pose like chaturanga. This lack of flexibility is a potential cause of generalized wrist and/or hand pain in yoga.
Another issue to evaluate is the most common alignment cue given at the wrist. This is that the elbow should be aligned over the wrist creating two ninety degree angles. The image here popped up pretty quickly on a google search. It shows the “right” and “wrong” way to do chaturanga. Even if this is true, (and I’m not convinced of it personally), if you’re dealing with wrist pain, do something more like the wrong one (the one pictured with the “x” in the box below). Although the wrong one showed in this image is WAY too far back, the extreme shows how moving the elbow behind the wrist reduces the wrist angle and creates less compression. Sometimes breaking the rules is a good idea.
The image above was taken from this yoga website
Upward Facing Dog
I have covered Chaturanga along with Shoulders in Upward Facing Dog in previous articles. The hands and the wrist are part of the foundation of these two postures. How we set them up has an effect on what’s above it. I have watched thousands of upward dogs at this point and I have to say that it is probably more likely to cause wrist pain in yoga for beginners than even chaturanga.
Image above from this yoga website
Why? It is very common for beginners to have their shoulders too far out in front of their wrists. Awkward body control, lack of strength in the core, shoulder girdle, and bad technique in moving from chaturanga into upward facing dog can easily lead to the shoulders being too far forward. What happens then? Simple, wrist compression occurs.
The image here of upward facing dog was easily found on a website that sells a product for helping wrist pain. Interestingly, their model has her shoulders so far out in front of her wrists well… I’m not surprised she’s wearing the product. Sorry guys, nothing personal, just my observation.
If you have wrist pain, don’t use the alignment above. Something closer to what you see below makes more sense, where the shoulder is just barely in front of the wrist.
Image above from this yoga website
Downward Facing Dog
Downward dog does not have wrist compression written all over it like the other two postures we just looked at. None the less, it is a pose where students complain about wrist pain in yoga. Deciphering downward dog wrist pain is a little different.
This is a good place for me to bring up the alignment of the wrist. In reality, we should have been paying attention to this in the previous two postures as well. I mention it here because it’s more easily seen. I have a couple of images from a different article I wrote on your Shoulders in Downward Facing Dog that highlight a few things to look for.
As it turns out, your shoulders are connected to your hands and wrists. Shocking news I’m sure. The position of the shoulders has an effect on your hands and wrist position as well as the other way around. Check out the previous article on this topic. When we are talking about alignment of the hands through all three of these postures, we want the line, or crease of the wrist, to be facing forward! That is, parallel to the front edge of your mat. For a beginner, I would give precedence to this over anything else.
In downward dog, you will either want to have your middle finger pointed straight forward or you’ll want your index finger pointed straight forward. How will you decide which one works for you? Which one puts the crease of your wrist parallel to the front edge of the mat? That’s the one you should probably adopt.
Middle finger perpendicular to front of mat, wrist angle turned in.
Index finger perpendicular to front edge, wrist angle more parallel.
Now, all of this gets us to downward dog and the possible reasons why someone might be experiencing wrist pain here. If the wrist alignment is set at an angle to the front of the mat, rather than parallel to it, this will usually cause pain on the outer edge of the wrist while in the downward dog. You see this a lot with beginners as they have a hard time controlling their shoulder girdle. The elbows tend to point too far out and the weight is often too far forward because of tight hamstrings.
A final reason that someone might be experiencing wrist pain in downward dog is that forearm muscles are tight. Even with the relatively minimal wrist angle of down dog, the weight of the body may be borne on the hands. This will quite naturally activate these muscles. If they are already dysfunctional for other reasons, this posture can add to that dysfunction.