For anyone who has ever practiced yoga or walked into a yoga class and performed this pose, you are likely to hear this statement, “my wrists give me so many problems when I do downward dog.” I recently challenged my class with a pose that is in and of itself challenging, Mayurasana or peacock pose. This is not a simple pose at all and requires a lot of strength in the arms to hold up a good majority of your body. We used some props to help us get into the pose, but as my students were attempting this pose, many were asking why the pose was so difficult and attributed most of it to really weak wrists. I became intrigued as to why wrists, for some people, are so weak, how you can strengthen them, and could weak wrists be a big cause for carpal tunnel syndrome and not so much just repetitive movements of the hands and fingers. The misalignment of the shoulders can also play a part, but for today, we will just be looking at the wrists.
The Anatomy of Your Wrists
There are many tiny parts that make up your hand and wrists and having a clearer understanding of its makeup can ensure a lesser chance of injury. The hand is composed of carpals, metacarpals and phalanges. The carpals consist of eight bones, the metacarpals make up the bones in the palm of the hand and the phalanges are the bones in the fingers. There are then two bones, the radius and the ulna which make up the forearm and which are then connected to the bones in the wrists via muscles, ligaments and tendons. So, these somewhat small bones in the palms and the wrists need to hold up a lot of weight when coming into either downward facing dog, Mayurasana or headstand. Where most yoga students have issues in their wrists are when the wrists are flexed and the flexor muscles running along the palm side of your hand and forearm are stretched. Some other situations that can occur are when most of the weight falls into the outside of your hands; the knuckles buckle under the weight and the fingers are slightly curled when pressing your palms down; or when the weight collapses to the heel of the palm instead of the fingers and bones in the palms.
Weak Wrists Linked to Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
There are many causes for carpal tunnel syndrome and one of them is wrist weakness. The nerve that runs through the center of the forearm is called the median nerve which runs inside of a narrow tunnel. What happens with carpal tunnel is that the tendons get inflamed at certain points along the wrist and forearm and press into the nerve causing numbness and pain throughout the arm. Many of us spend our time with our wrists in flexion, so the extensor muscles, the muscles on the back on the hand and forearm, can get over stretched while the flexor muscles can become tight over time. The flexor muscles become weaker because they have not been used, stretched or moved in any other direction. This can be seen when we are driving, typing, sewing, doing any type of racquet ball sport, cooking or even texting. Just like any other part of our body, when the wrist has not been given an opportunity to move and explore all ranges of movement, its options become limited.
Make Your Weak Wrists Stronger
Some poses that are great for reducing pain are coming onto all fours and slowly bearing more weight into the hands as well as Childs’ pose with the arms extended out. More exercises for doing yoga with bad wrists can also be seen in the Yoga Tune Up® Quick Fix video for Hands, Wrists and Elbows. Time that is dedicated to restoring strength and flexibility in the hands and wrists can save you a lifetime of pain and finally give you that chance to get into downward dog with ease.
Learn about our solutions for hand and wrist pain.
Watch our free 5 minute video for hand and wrist pain relief.
Thank you for your article…very interesting and educational. I do my best to advocate warming up the wrist before a yoga practice. It’s important to warm the wrist up and for some reason we don’t put much attention to them the way we should.
Thanks for the eye opener in your wrist blog, I can relate to this wrist pain from sitting and typing on the computer at work all day. Great pick in exercises for the wrists.
Having sat at a desk for most of my life typing coupled with crashing and burning on multiple occasions where my wrists received the bulk of the damage, this was a helpful article. I will test out the various suggested exercises. Since starting with the tune up balls I have already felt relief. The problem is becoming regular with my own self-care. I am always bugging my clients; but, unfortunately, I don’t listen to my own advice.
Thank you, Tia, for this article and calling attention to the important role our wrists play in our daily lives and yoga practice. It was helpful to read about the anatomy of the hands and wrists and being reminded to strengthen the wrists and work on range of motion in order to keep them healthy. This really helped me pay more attention to my wrists and their movements in daily life.
I enjoyed reading this article. I had the carpal tunnel surgery years ago prior to practicing yoga. Since then if the symptoms arise I practice certain poses and do some targeted stretches. Relief is almost instantaneous. I also recently started to go to the gym to strengthen and it has made a world of difference to the health of my joints.
Thank you for this post. Coming from a medical professional whose work is primarily shoulder and wrist, I am always looking for poses to help with healing and modifications to help on the journey. The anatomy refresher is a great help, too!
thank you such a great explanation of a well overlooked joint! we take our wrists for granted! will be sure to check out the links for helping wrist strength and mobility!
I really liked having the wrist anatomy clearly outlined in your article. I too suffer from wrist pain but due to an injury from torn ligaments in the lateral aspect of my wrist. I have to be very careful with poses that place extra weight through my wrists. I am very interested in learning and doing some of the YTU poses for the hands and wrists and forearm as well as using the balls.
I have almost entirely removed down dog from my classes for some of these reasons. I find that too many people carry the weight in the heel of their hands and they are regularly jeopardizing their wrist health. There are many other ways to work the same muscles without doing 20 down dogs in a class. Removing them, aside from 1-2, has led me to become much more creative in my sequencing of transition poses.
I also have difficulties with peacock pose. I will use these suggestions to strengthen my wrists. Thanks.
Amazing how the tiny muscles and bones of the hand hold up so much weight. It made great sense when thinking about the flexors not getting enough work and then being weak and contributing to carpal tunnel. The exercises on the quick fix were surprisingly difficult. I enjoyed.
My mother is a hairstylist and is always talking about her wrist pain.Her wrists tend to hurt in weight bearing extension movements. Although her wrists are very strong in flexion, I believe that she is in desperate need for a myofascial release using the Yoga Tune Up therapy balls coupled with a number of exercises!
I appreciate this article as I have carpal tunnel syndrome and it has never been explained to me in this way nor was I ever told it was from weakness and that the area would benefit from being stretched and strengthen in different ways. The answer I got was to wear splits at night or surgery…. I chose the splits, but will now do ball work.
Thank you for this article. The image and the explanation of the role of the nerve is helpful. While stretching these ligaments and muscles are important, this article also demonstrates the importance of ball work to break up the connective tissue.
I love your suggestion of simply coming onto all fours and slowly bearing more weight into the hands as a strengthening exercise for the wrists. There is a lot of work to be done regarding how we organize our body in this seemingly-simple pose, and most of us would benefit greatly from spending some great, awareness-building time in this shape more often. Thanks for the great reminder, Tia!
it always surprised my how little we talk about wrists in yoga, considering how much time we can spend on them during a practice. knowing what motions we are over doing in our wrists can open up ideas for using some mat time to counter act those over used movements. super helpful. I stopped doing the “prayer twist” action several years ago, and even started paying attention to how I use my hands to press us up from the floor!
I also have trouble with weight bearing poses on my hands due to typing and waitressing and toddler-carrying shortened flexors and virtually immobile and weak extensors. This is no joke, in addition to getting in the way of my yoga practice, I’ve found that recently (as my child grows and I work more) my whole hand falls asleep when I do! I’m going to try the quick fix you recommended and see if I can unwind the wrist tension.
Thanks for this post! About a year ago I was dealing with a lot of wrist pain on a daily basis, not so much from down dogs and handstands but from carrying a baby around in one arm all of the time, wrapping my hand around him and, in so-doing, putting a lot of pressure on my wrist. I had to put a lot of work into strengthening my wrist in all directions (not just in flexion), and attention to the ways I held my baby and to balancing my body. At the same time, I became much more aware of how I distributed the weight across my hands and wrists in yoga poses, and as others mention above, redistributing the weight out of my wrist and into my the pads of my fingers has been so helpful to me, and something I would like to share with my students as I begin to teach.
Thanks for the great post, Tia. I’ve often heard the phrase, “yoga is an antidote for modern life.” But I had never considered how many yoga postures continue the troubling modern epidemic of chronic wrist flexion related to keyboard and mouse use! I’m trying to think of any postures that use wrist extension… I suppose this could be accomplished in many standing postures by adding mudras. I was also taught to grip the floor with my fingers and pull in, creating a space for the medial nerve in down dog and related poses. I love your addition of pressing down through the base of the thumb. This push/pull of the hand along the floor tents the hand and creates instant comfort for me.
I think this is my favorite blog yet…probably because I’m currently dealing with wrist/forearm pain. I’m going to have to try the quick fix and see if I can incorporate more range of motion for my wrist in my daily activities. Thanks Tia!
Thank you Marion! I have definitely found teaching some wrist stretches before we start moving through vinyasas since some of my classes are in the evening right after work and I want to try to undo some of the repetitive patterns of movement before coming into plank for example. The students liked it so much, that they requested that all of the yoga teachers at the gym include that as part of their class!
Great article Tia and thank you for the awesome assist in YTU training! I am slowly seeing wrist exercises being taught in yoga classes. Most people do not seem to see the importance of the wrists and the ankles (that’s another story.) We’re in flexion throughout the day then go into yoga and come full blown into wrist extension with our body weight to add to the strain and pain. It’s a head scratcher at times. I often incorporate the wrist exercises in my classes before we go into any poses that bear weight on the wrists then continue throughout the class and at then end.
this is so so so so helpful. th i sometimes wonder about the ligament laxity in my hands and wrists . i have hypermobile joints all over but i notice particularly with arm balances like crow, there is only a certain amount of time my hands can actually be in the position theyre in before it feels like the ligaments go splat and my fingers hands and wrist “give” and i fall. i dont know if this is a real thing or some random thing im making up but it seems like even when i do a lot of wrist strengthening work, there is a hypermobility issue here. the same happens with my feet and toes. basically i have so much trouble “pulling it together”in my hands that i dont think its possible to support myself for any extended period of time. is there any reality to this feeling/idea?
[…] For a more indepth understanding of the anatomy, please read below. Source: http://www.yogatuneup.com/blog/2011/01/28/strengthen-weak-wrists/ […]
This is a common challenge Yoga teachers encounter with new and beginning students; they often are so weak at the wrists that most postures are uncomfortable and difficult to stay in even for a short time. I then realize how I’ve taken the wrist strength I’ve acquired for granted and how important it is for practicing yoga; not to mention how we are often the ones that can open those jars others pass for help, and etc.!
this is so helpful, I’ve been pratcicing yoga for 4 years, never before had a problem with my wrists until now. Someone told me it might be tendonitis or overuse. I will try these excerices to see if they help.
I love the cue T Lyn’s teacher gave about the “breath” under the palms. It is these little descriptive words that are so important. After teaching yoga for so many years to both adults and children I have noticed that children are way “better” at it. Not because they are more flexible or have more energy but because they have active minds and bodies. As adults we tend to focus on activating the body but if our mind is dull then we can’t fully inhabit nor fully activate our bodies. You can have the most perfect form in a down dog but if you are not fully present then the weight just hangs into the joints and can create pain.
Tia, I love this article and some of the posts are also very inspiring. Your article is an eye opener to me. It makes me think that as we challenge ourselves in our practice, and as we want to refine and attempt hand and arm balancing poses, we get to a point where it is so useful to understand the anatomy of the hand and arm. It is striking and beautiful to realize how delicate and yet strong the anatomy of our hands and wrists is. Thanks a lot! Now I am aware of the different and important muscle dynamics as you describe them for us.
A great article, thanks Tia. Our wrists were not designed to stand on. The knowledge of how they work and how to care for them is especially powerful.
I was definitely one of those students who put pressure on my wrists during poses. I still am working on refocusing my weight proportion to relieve my wrists. By keeping my hands flat on the ground greatly help during downward dog. Thank you for the reminder as I continuously learn.
So great to blog this Tia you are so right about this commen complaint and misconsceptions of the wrists in Yoga especially DWD! I don’t have these issues but your picture and research sure help I am looking forward to sharing this info with my class. YTU certification helped as well on how to que shoulders, serratus, even the core in the weight bearing poses. Until we get the alignment right we shouldn’t even be heaving ourselfs through these poses. I am fortunate to not suffer carpal tunnal ect… syndroms These blogs are tremendious help to me when I get asked every question in the book. Thanks!
Another great idea for strengthening the wrist is to strengthen the grip. Try standing or walking while holding onto a heavy dumbbell in each hand or hanging from a pull-up bar. in addition to strengthening the grip and digital flexors it distracts the wrist joint and gives it some relief.
Also try pinching something large and heavy between your thumb and forefingers like a big hardcover book or, better yet, two small hardcover books and don’t let them fall. Do this with your fingers and thumb pointed down toward the floor obviously. Super for wrist strengthening. Try it with two or three 5lb or 10lb weight plates.
This was such an informative article, as I have always had issues with my wrists. From years of working in retail, waitressing, and typing at my day job my wrist have become weak. I was diagnosed with Carpal Tunnel last year in my right wrist and given a shot to help release the pain. It worked… but a few months later my left wrist began hurting in the same way. As T Lyn mentioned above, a teacher had suggested that i need to extend through my finger tips allowing my palms to have a slight suction cup action. I now put more awareness into my winds eye when dealing with my wrists in every asana. Now, I have a lot less pain and I am more aware of the placement and distribution of weight in my hands and wrists.
Learning the basic functions of the body through YTU during my current teacher training is helping to better understand the dynamics of my body… I hope I can deepen my practice and thus be able to pass it along to my students in the future!
Thanks so much!
I THINK IT IS REALLY IMPORTANT TO PAY MORE ATTENTION THE THE HANDS AND FEET. THEY WORK SO HARD FOR US AND WE SELDOM DO NICE LITTLE MOVEMENTS TO HELP THEM RELEASE THEIR TENSION AND BUILD STRENGTH. MANY OF THE POSES WE ASK OUR STUDENTS TO DO, ASK MUCH OF THE HANDS AND FEET AND WE MAY NOT HAVE INTRODUCED POSES TO STRENGTHEN THESE AREAS. THAT MAY BE WHY THE POSES IS SO DIFFICULT, RATHER THAN A WEAKNESS IN THE LARGE MUSCLE GROUPS.
Just want to double check if i’m ginving out the right instructions/pointers…thank you
Great blog. Question about contracting the gluteus muscles during back bends/ warrior poses, etc…. I read in the yoga tune up section of the pure yoga manual that one should engage the inner thighs, which causes the gluteus muscles to engage.. So does this mean engaging the inner thighs naturally engages the butt muscles? Of coarse assuming that the feet are parallel and facing forward.
Once a long time a go a teacher dropped a pearl of wisdom, a sentence in her class, that she didnt even emphasize, she just said it and it has echoed in my mind ever since. I was in down dog or Adho Mukha Svanasana and she cued us to use our knuckle pads and finger pads like frogs feet, suctioning onto and into the mat. At the same time, create what feels like a pocket of air at the point where the radius and ulna meet the bones of the wrist. So theres breath under your palm, push the heel of your thumb and knuckle into the mat also. The same way you create space in your shoulders in down dog, create the same space in your wrists, lift out of them. A great deal of pressure is released I find and it has since taken the pain out of my wrists in Adho Mukha Svanasana. Note to self.
I take my wrists for granted. I rely on them to never fail me so, I don’t get them the special love and attention they deserve. Especially if I’m practicing and I am tired… I’ve been making a conscious effort to distribute weight through my hands, but I can’t wait to try these other methods.
Hey Tia, I love the info because plenty of people have this problem and it’s a big part of yoga. Another thing people can try if they aren’t in too much pain, when loading weight into their wrist is, wrap a band, or use tape, just about 1 to 2 inches just under the elbow, all the way around the arm. Not too tight. But, tight enough to put a little pressure. You are technically shooting to bind the distal edge of the common extensor tendon. Sometime, when weight is place in the wrist and they are week, the bones in the wrist will spread and they will also start to spread in the elbow. Of coarse the shoulder will have a say. But, working from proximal to distal, if the elbow stays supported, it will consequently help support and stabilize the wrist and allow the person to feel more stable and build some strength through muscular energy. This in addition to doing only box position could help the person over come some stability and emotional fears if their pain is more severe. Be Mindful and listen carefully if you want to try. Best
Thanks for this post Tia. As somebody who has always suffered with wrist pain, I can relate to this very strongly! I remember the excrutiating pain that I first felt when I tried mayurasana. I have been working on a full grounding of the mound of my index finger in order to re-position the weight. Although it looked like I was grounding through all four corners of my hand, in reality, my index knuckle was barely touching, and over time, meant that I was feeling a lot of pain.
When my wrists were at their worst, I found that doing a down down with my fingers pointed towards my feet (so outwardly rotated) alieved a bit of pain for me.
This is quite informative. I always felt my wrists had a problem and that I had trouble with Down Dog or the Crow and other poses where the wrists had to bear some weight. Strengthening the muscles that support the wrist is the key.
Thank you Tia!