Do your clients complain they have pain in their hands and wrists while in downward dog, plank, performing a chaturanga and any position where they are bearing weight on their hands with the wrists in extension?

We have many muscles in the hands and forearms that can contribute to this painful issue. We use the flexors of the forearms and wrists countless times each day: Texting, holding the steering wheel to drive, blow drying hair, brushing teeth, eat, open a car door, using tools to drill ,hammer , rakes and shovels to garden…the list goes on.

Muscles that move the forearmMeet the hardworking flexors of the wrist and hand:

flexor carpi radialis, palmaris longus, flexor digitorum superficialis flexor digitorum profundus and the thenar group, which is the pad of muscles at the base of your thumb.
The five flexor muscles listed above create flexion primarily at the wrist or fingers. They are located on the forearm’s anterior/medial surface (the hairless side of the forearm) between the brachioradialis and the ulnar shaft. Most of the flexors originate from the common flexor tendon at the medial epicondyle of the humerus. The bellies of the flexors extend down the forearm becoming tendons near the wrist.

Maybe if we were a waiter or waitress holding a weighted tray face up in one hand all the time, our range of motion in extension of the wrist would not be an issue.

Now, meet extensor group – Extensor carpi radialis longus, extensor radialis brevis, extensor ulnaris and extensor digitorum create extension primarily at the wrist and fingers. They originate on the lateral side of the humerus with their tendons anchoring near the wrist.

When you shake someone’s hands to say hello and your elbow is flexed 90 degrees or if you make a claw hand grip gesture, you will see the extensor digitorum tendons come to the surface on the top of your hands. Keyboard use contracts the extensor digitorum, which can lead to tightness and a restriction of the range of motion of your fingers and wrists. Performing a “Clean & Press” with a barbell can damage or overstretch your wrist because of the weight and quick action from flexion to extension.

So, now you have the basic anatomy of the forearm’s flexor and extensor muscles. Come back later this week for Part 2, where I’ll show you how to take the “BARK!” out of your Down Dog!


Enjoyed this article? Read Try This Yoga Tune Up® Stretch For Your Forearm And Wrist
Sue McGurn

Susan has been in the business of fitness since 1990 as a group exercise instructor, personal trainer, program manager and leading the NY BFIT University Instructor Training program for one of the nation's largest largest health club chains, Bally Total Fitness for 17 years. Susan was introduced to the Pilates principle of exercise on the reformer in 1999 by Elizabeth Larkam, director of Pilates and Beyond, and who is internationally recognized as an innovator in mind body movement. She holds certificates from BASI, Balanced Body Pilates, American Council on Exercise (ACE) for group and personal training, and licensed to teach Yoga Tune Up® with specialty certificates in Yoga Tune Up® Ball Therapy. Susan is well versed in Pilates Mat work with ring, roller, bands and ball as well as using unique props in Yoga Tune Up® to design programs based on individual needs, challenges and goals. Susan states, "Pilates and Yoga Tune Up® has deeply connected my mind to work synergistically with my body and helping me and many others live better in their body everyday."

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Susan McGurn

Since I wrote this, I have also found if students also have a lack of ROM in the shoulders, specifically in shoulder flexion, they will have a hard time keeping their weight from shifting forward. Tight hamstrings can also contribute to their weight shifting forward. This combined with poor scapular control and stability will put undue stress on the body and wrists.


Thank you for this interesting presentation of the muscles of the forearms and how they work. I will directly read the second article on this subject!


This is a great breakdown for targeting wrist pain. Thank you for the daily life activities that cause tension in these areas!


Wow! I never really realized all of the different muscles that work and interact in our wrists. Thank you so much for this! It really opened my eyes to the muscles.


Thanks for the review! Its always great to have a visual of the muscles and their functions. This was really helpful!

Karen Stillman

Thanks for the review, and I look forward to seeing your next article.


Thank you Sue for this info.
I have been having some issues with my left forearm lately and it is great to be able to locate the pain through this picture. It is always important to balance out the flexion and extension of the wrist, to gain full range in each joint. Thank you for the reminder 😉


I appreciate the well-written description of the muscles of the forearm and their attachments. Having a clear picture of the actions of the flexors and extensors of the wrists helps to understand how our daily activities can affect the health and range of these tissues. The examples in this article and the specific landmarks mentioned are great teaching nuggets!

Heather Longoria

Thank you for the explanation of the muscles involved in wrist extension. I am a project manager, so I often spend whole days at a keyboard with my wrists in extension. As a result, I now have recurring pain in my left extensor group. I look forward to reading your next article about how to alleviate this pain!


It is a great post to read to emphasize the importance of understanding basic anatomy whether or not one practices yoga. Though most of us experience pain and tightness in the forearms’ flexors and extensor muscles, not many of us know how to rehabilitate these muscles!


Using part 1 and 2 as part of my teaching this week. Thanks!

Juliet Hewitt

Great information about the forearms and wrists in Down Dog. So many yoga classes start with Down Dog as a first or second pose without considering how complex the pose is and how difficult it is for many people to perform the deep flexion and exterior rotation of the shoulders required. Not being able to do those directions of movement mean the wrists and elbows take on more stress. Looking forward to reading part 2.

Laura Davies

Thanks for the detail, we use our hands for so much everyday, yet how often does one pay attention to the muscles and tendons. Looking forward to part 2!

Lauren Reese

It’s amazing how many muscles there are in the arm and wrist! I have so many students complain about their wrists in DD, since we don’t use our hands/wrists to bear our weight most of the time it does take time to strengthen these muscles! I wonder if using the YTU pose matador with a blanket would help build that strength!?

Diana Germain

This is very helpful because down dog hurting the wrists is a frequent complaint I hear. Down dog is used with high frequency in many yoga classes, so wrist pain is enough to deter some from practicing yoga at all.

Cintia Hongay

Not just my students, but myself… I do have weak wrists, they do hurt if I do down dog. This morning I saw someone buying a pair of yoga gloves with some sort of cushioning on the palms and she swore it helped with her wrist pain and that it was as “good” as making a fist instead of opening your hand. Any thoughts?

Jessica Haims

This article was a great refresher on the anatomy of the wrists and the how the muscles affect our daily lives. Using the yoga tune up balls would be a great way to work into these muscles and increase the range of motion of the wrist helping us in poses such as down dog, plank, or any arm balance in general. The example of carrying a tray is great as it reminds us how these actions are used in real life! Looking forward to the exercise to take the bark out of the wrist!