As you build a regular yoga practice, you may experience many new bodily sensations as you go through the process of strengthening and changing the resting tone of the muscles throughout your entire body. But what happens if you begin to encounter sensations in your body which feel less than ideal? A common question I am often asked is “Why do my wrists and forearms hurt in downward facing dog?”
In order to answer this question about wrist and arm pain in yoga, a bit of soft tissue anatomy knowledge is necessary. There are four extensors of the wrist and fingers located on the posterior side of the forearm: extensor carpi radialis longus, extensor carpi radials brevis, extensor carpi ulnaris, and extensor digitorum.
Stand and lift an arm in front of you so it’s parallel with the ground. Extend your wrists by bringing your fingers up towards the ceiling while your palms face forward ( Think…. “Stop! In the name of love!!”) When these muscles concentrically contract (meaning the muscle fibers shorten) they move the wrist into extension at the radioulnar joint.
On the opposite (anterior) side of the forearm are the flexors: flexor carpi radialis, palmaris longus, and flexor carpi ulnaris. In this same “Stop in the name of love” hand position, these muscles eccentrically lengthened.
So, why is this information important? Well, let’s investigate…
Take some time to notice the current range of motion in your wrists. Make a list of many of the tasks you perform throughout the day with your hands. When you take a moment to realize what you do with your hands (drink beverages, write notes, type at your computer, drive, and scroll through social media apps) you’ll soon notice that your wrists are either in a neutral or flexed position many hours throughout the day.
Now, let’s look at the mechanics of Downward Facing Dog – you are not only putting your wrists in extension but also adding gravity and body weight into the equation! Ouch!!
Sure that can cause a bit of discomfort, especially since Downward Facing Dog is one of the most common yoga poses, you may feel like there’s no forearm pain relief in sight. But alas, there is!
In Yoga Tune Up®, before we do any work on the muscles we begin with a “Check In.” First, face your palms down on a flat surface with your fingers facing you and your thumbs facing out. Attempt to press the entire surface of your palms (from your fingertips to the base of your palms) flat onto the surface.
Stay here for a few breaths and notice the range of motion in your wrists. Ask yourself, “How does this feel? Do my palms rest easily? Does it take a lot of effort to press down?”
Check out Jill below as she demonstrates Piano Fingers. I love the Piano Fingers exercise because it’s a double whammy, as it strengthens and articulates the muscles of the forearm, wrists, and fingers.
Follow it with a delicious Yoga Tune Up® therapy ball massage, such as the Forearm Fixer below or the Forearm Meltdown, which targets the extensors of the wrist and fingers and can be found on pages 319-321 in The Roll Model by Jill Miller.
You may also consider seeking instruction from a Yoga Tune Up® instructor in your area, or check my schedule for weekly classes in Chicago, IL.
I perform both of these Check Ins daily, and many of my students have experienced profound relief from the soreness in their wrists and forearms and are able to enjoy their yoga practice without pain.
Do you suffer from wrist pain in yoga? Try these two fixes and let me know in the comments below if they offer you relief!
Enjoyed this article? Read Glory Days – Don’t Let Them Pass Your Forearms By
Thank you, loved the Piano Fingers and massage of the forearm ”Forearm Fixer”
Great tips! I think I will add these 2 into my regular self care routine. Between practicing and teaching yoga, typing, and running my sewing business (lots of cutting and stitching fabric) my forearms get soooo tight! sometimes they feel like sausages with fingers at the ends! I also like to stick my thumb in the trigger point between the radius and ulna and give it a little love rub, too. Love the image of squeezing the toothpaste tube.
I feel like this was written for me! I have tremendous tightness and sometimes aches in my forearms from strength moves and lots of assisting in my yoga classes. I am super excited about Forearm Fixer and have already sent the link to a student of mine with repetitive stress injuries from being in the dental field.
Nice, very simple and quick ways to warm up for down dog.
Will definitley be keeping in mind to share with students who are having this issue
I always hated those classes where they made you do Downward facing dogs again and again without even a small warm up before… Thank you for your short and well described exaplanation. It sure makes a lot of sense and I think most people will agree that you cannot do an extension of the wrist (with you body weight and gravity on it) when you are mostly in flexion all day long, without preparing him to receive the charge.
Love the finger articulation exercise. Simple but very effective. I hadn’t considered how big of a role the forearm plays in wrist pain /discomfort. Both of these exercises together are super helpful. Thanks!
Wrist pain?? Yes!! Thank you for this post and the check ins that I will be applying to my daily routine to hopefully help me get over the hump of sore wrists during Downward Dog.
Fantastic post. I love the fingers exercise. I am going to incorporate that as a warm up before my yoga practice.
I’ve definitely experienced a lot of aches and pains in my wrists lately, especially with some slight carpal tunnel issues, so I loved these exercises! Particularly the first one that can be done anywhere without a prop, I think that’s a very powerful tool to incorporate and share.
Monica, thank you so much for this article. This exercise is so simple–but deceptively so! Funny how one direction is so much harder than the other. When I started doing yoga, I was instructed to push my whole hand down into the floor in DWD but the prep makes this a lot more accessible than what I did–jamming it down on the floor. Both of these exercises are going to become go-tos for me and I know that they will make a big difference to the students I teach as well.
I love the piano fingers exercise! So simple yet can be practiced anywhere; waiting at the doctor’s office, sitting on the bus…thanks for the post!
This is one of my flavor sets exercise. It helps recovery from any the aerial class, knife work in the kitchen, or desk work from the computer. Fingers articulate can be played anytime during my break and require no tool. Forearm rolling is a one of best things I pampered my wrists.
It is exactly what I need! The videos are really practical and exactly resolves my issues. Thanks for the sharing.
Thank you so much for this video, exactly what I needed. I am a yoga teacher, but also an aerialist, so my forearms are always screaming from grabbing a trapeze bar or a tissue and going upside down or pulling myself up.
This is great knowledge to have as a soon-to-be, Yoga Tune Up instructor. I love the reference to the “stop in the name of love” shoulder and hand motion. I will definitely be using that line in my classes! Thank you for sharing this.
Just beginning yoga I’ve noticed more wrist pain for sure. I’ve used forearm fix with yoga tune up to help recover from lifting but piano fingers is new. I’m definitely going to integrate that into my routine and look for differences.
Just beginning yoga I’ve noticed lots of wrist pain and I’ve done a forearm fix before recovering from lifting but piano fingers is new. I am going to integrate that into my routine and see how that changes things.
I have struggled with wrist issues and the piano fingers exercise by Jill was something similar to what my chiropractor recommended as a type of nerve flossing for the fingers. Its interesting how simple movements can help in ways maybe not even intended, or maybe its from an intutive element. I will definitely try the forearm fixer too! Even as I type I can feel that tightness happening and I look forward to trying this as it looks fairly simple to do with the Tune up balls.
I will use “stop in the name of love” in all my classes :). I also like that you acknowledged that part of starting a yoga practice includes discomfort as the body adapts to new loads.
I love the piano hands and ball work at the wall. Great ideas. They’ll definitely make into my classes. Thank
you for sharing, Monica. On a side note, Hi Alex!
Thank you for sharing these techniques in aid of strengthening the wrists. I know this will help in performing planks and push-up exercises in the gym, as well as YTU classes that I attend.
I love this post — I have many students who complain about wrist and forearm discomfort in class, especially new students. I generally have them open and close fists in Child’s pose for a break, especially new students, but I think Piano Fingers is a wonderful compliment, if not a replacement, for opening and closing fists. Thank you!
This was helpful, as I do experience pain in my wrists and in my tight hamstrings that make down dog difficult for me.
This roll also helps ease the tension in my forearms from writing and typing all day.
I stopped going to yoga classes partly because of the heavy emphasis on down dog and the strain it put on my already aching wrists. Thank you for including video instructions in this post as I find it very helpful to have someone both show and talk me through new movements.
I really appreciate this article as I have had yoga clients complain about forearm pain. Even in my own practice I have had wrist pain and strains and I really like the piano fingers exercise. I had always stretched my wrists and forearms instead of strengthening, which I realize can incur more damage. Also I love the Yoga Tune Up massage on the forearm, it is so intense.
Thank you monica, we often forget to work and warm the wrists before classes and should always do (in my opinion). Focus is often the shoulders. Thank you for the anatomical details.
What a useful article ! I appreciate all the anatomy details that give me the opportunity to understand why so much people have trouble when theirs hands are flat on the ground ! And, in the top of wow, I read so much precious informations and solutions to help these people ! I am so excited to try it today ! Merci beaucoup!!
At least, some hope for my Downard Dog ! So many teachers correct me in this asana. Some used to walk on my hands to correct my position, other complained on my shoulders angle, some said I was to much hyper lax, but at the end, my body hurts at so many places that I was almost to left the yoga family. In reading this article, I find some clues to help my body by a better understanding of the use of my hands. Now when I drive my car, I try, I do exercise my fingers and my hand to be more flexible. Thank you !
OMG I’m gonna try this for sure; I give many classes of Buti Yoga a week and do a lot of handstand kick, downward dog or plank. M hands and forearms are screaming at me!! My boyfriend is also working in a restaurant and he is always struggling with his forearms. For sure, I will teach him how to do this self massage! Thank you!!
After having broken both wrists years ago and using my hands and forearms a LOT (yoga, rock climbing, holding a baby…) I do need some TLC. Thanks for this article!
In the YTU level I training we worked on downward facing dog in the day 3 class. Although I don’t personally have any issues with my forearm/wrists in this pose, I can see the real benefits of working through the techniques introduced in this blog post to prevent, maintain and improve ROM especially through weight bearing. I love the anatomical link to pain as well. Once people understand what’s causing their pain, they are more easily able to work towards correcting it.
I really like the piano fingers. I am definitely using this exercise for my daily warm up as a massage therapist. the forearm fixer is just what I was looking for. These therapy tune-up balls are my new best friend.
Thank you for this thoughtful and informative post. I also found that while my forearms don’t typically hurt in a yoga class, since I’ve been practicing a lot more regularly I started to experience discomfort. It’s helpful to know that the issue is from regular practice as I typically saw this happening with newer practitioners.
I do not experience wrist pain in downward dog but in classes and from friends I hear a lot of complaints. I have always been curious as to why certain people experience wrist pain & what can be done to remedy or prevent discomfort in these poses. This blog post provides insight into our modern lives vs our anatomy. I appreciated the explanation of our four extensors of the wrist. The stretching & awareness exercises, piano fingers & twisting the palms on the floor, are simple enough to include in a warm up or suggest in a practice.
Many people complain of wrist pain during downward facing down and this blog helped tremendously. Piano keys demonstration and forearm rolling will be a great benefit to downward facing dog pose and alleviating wrist discomfort.
Thank you for introducing me to piano fingers….will definitely be adding to my practice.
such great information, so many students suffer from wrist pain in down dog until they build the strength needed to support the weight of their body. great hand exercises to help with strength building! thank you
As a body worker, this is a must for self care! I also find this useful to bring into the class. There is a large population that suffers from wrist pain. This is a very great resource. Thank you for this article.
Thanks for the anatomy of the forearms and how those muscles work in downward facing dog. I do roll my forearms with the therapy balls, and I will include the piano fingers in my routines from going forward. Thanks for sharing! Michelle
that was my first experience with Yoga, after taking a few classes i got a tendonitis and couldn’t move my right hand at all for few weeks….if i only got the right explanation on how to perform this pose…..
Thanks for the great articles! I sometimeshave some pinching pain in my forearms in the downward facing dog pose, I do roll on my forearms to release the tension. It’s the first time I came across the piano fingers movement, I will definitely include this in my rolling practice!
Thanks for the in-depth look at forearm and wrist pain in Down Dog! I find that I have good extension in my wrists, but I do experience pain in my upper forearms, near the inside of the elbow, as I am prone to hyper-extension. Any advice for further strengthening this area so as to keep from hyper-extending the arms?
Great article! I often work with clients complaining or wrist and forearm pain due to long hours spent on the keyboard and phone. Since discovering YTU I have used the technique of taking the balls to the wall and shown my clients how they can roll out their pain. Educating and providing the tools for self care not only allows for people to articulate to their health care providers what they are experiencing but give them the power and competence for self-care.
I get a RSI and find the wrist rolling very helpful. It hurts a lot but aggravating the injury seems to work!
So good! Its great that the exercise is easy and can be done in just a few minutes a day, so there cant be any complaining that there isnt any time;-) I loved the idea of a cushion on the inside of the arm. Thank you for posting!
I always hear new and even seasoned yogis complain of wrist and forearm pain during and after practice. I like Piano Fingers and the forearm meltdown and often have them practice on the ridge tops (first knuckles) to promote hand and wrist strength. Thanks for a great article and insights!
This article is something I can personally relate to and found extremely helpful. As I went through my 200 Hour Teacher Training, I noticed that after each day, my wrist were extremely sore and tight. This sensation is not something I was used to. However, through yoga practice and yoga tune-up, I became more aware of the tightness in my wrists and started to perform some of these wrist stretches, daily. Now, I have seen a huge improvement with the range of motion of my wrists!
Cet article me fait prendre conscience à quel point il est important de s’arrêter et de réfléchir sur les gestes que l’on reproduit au quotidien. Je penserai à l’exercice du Piano Fingers pour aider mes clients ayant des douleurs aux poignets. Je suis convaincue que grâce à cela ils pourront renouer avec certains exercices mis de côté du à leur inconfort.
I love the piano fingers idea, will give it a try. It’s also a great way to be mindful and stay present. Thank you ~ Peace
Thank you Monica for breaking down which habitual habits are in part responsible for pain students experience in down dog (in regards to the wrists and forearms). It is a great reminder for us teachers to think about where students are coming from before class and how those habitual postures show up on their yoga mat. Do you also have any recommendations for people who suffer from elbow tendinitis and get pain in down dog ?
Bonne idée pour réchauffer les mains et poignets. J’utilise cet exercise pour mes cours de yoga aérien…car les mains sont beaucoup sollicités. Je pourrais aussi inclure le massage des mains avec les balles question de stimuler la circulation sanguine.
Great info! This is probably the biggest complaint I get from my clients. I will be able to use this info and help them relieve some of their pain.
I’m a massage therapist and must say these exercices are a must for any manual therapist! very good.
Nice article, I have many students that complain of wrist pain in down dog and plank this will give me more tools to help them out . Thanks !
BEl exercice à faire comme réchauffement avant de faire des asanas (planche, planche inversée …)qui sollicitent du tonus et de la force dans le Avants bras , les poignets et les mains. IL est aussi préventif .
I roll out my forearm frequently and keep a set with me at all times. It really helps for those of us that are on a computer all day long. Any pain that I have had in my forearm or wrists is alleviated just by rolling my forearm out for a short time.
Just the YTU routine I needed this morning! Thank you for a informative review of the extensors and flexors of the forearm. Too many downward dogs and chaturangas definitely tighten the extensors of the forearm but now that I have know how to relieve the tightness, I will never have to feel pain again:)
It’s helpful to see and read the list of muscles directly responsible for wrist action in the pose, Downward Facing Dog. The Piano Finger exercise is much gentler than other wrist strengthening exercises that require the client’s weight against the floor, which means it would be a great alternative for more sensitive wrist issues.
Thank you for addressing the strain and stress downward Facing Dog puts on our wrists. The extension, with added body weight, can be uncomfortable. Your exercise of pressing the palms (face up) down on a flat surface and breathing is helpful. I also appreciated the link to the plus ball rolling video “forearm fixer.” The work on the forearm and extensor bundle was excellent.
I really like the piano fingers technique. I think that anyone can use this to help with their hands, fingers, and wrists. I think I might start doing this just on its own because I have been having problems with my hands “sticking” in place and I think it would help strengthen my hands and wrists. Thank you for sharing this!
Thanks for sharing, Monica. I didn’t know there are four extensors and three flexers in the forearm. Adho Mukha Savasana seems to be a pose that really calls out one’s issues, if there are any in the wrist. I am encouraged to bring what I am learning to the classroom! Thanks!
C’est le premier article que je lis sur le blog et c’est vraiment intéressant pour moi qui suis une enseignante de yoga très régulièrement sollicitée par les différents bobos de mes élèves. Actuellement il y a une grande demande concernant les douleurs au poignet et au tunnel carpien. L’exercice 4 pattes permet parfois de se rendre compte de ces limitations pour certains avant d’en arriver à ressentir de la douleur.
L’exercice de pianotement des doigts est un plus que je vais adjoindre lorsque je travaille les articulations des membres supérieurs. merci beaucoup. et last but not least, l’utilisation des fameuses balles sur l’avant bras offrant comme toujours un résultat quasi instantané
Piano fingers me rappelle notamment les pawanmuktasana ! Vraiment pertinents pour les troubles de tunel carpien.
Très intéressant! Je vais essayer l’exercise avec les balles tune up. Elle me sera cetainement utile étant donné les mouvements que je fais au quotidien.
J’ai beaucoup aimé l’exercice “piano fingers”!! Je trouve que ces petites articulations ne sont pas assez sollicitées! Je devrais le faire dans des moments comme par exemple devant la télé! ?? merci pour la vidéo!! ??
J’ai essayé l’exercice “the piano fingers” et j’ai beaucoup aimé! On ne travaille pas assez souvent ces petites articulations je trouve et je compte bien essayer de faire cet exercice plus souvent en écoutant la télé par exemple! ?? merci pour la vidéo!! ??
Love videos! doing renos in our home and these quick fix ideas have helped me be able to continue ripping out old carpet! my grip was all but gone in one hand! will share in my next class!!
Stephanie, I’m so glad you found it helpful. I love when students come to me with questions and YTU® gives me the tools to offer recovery in a completely different way.
I found this article really helpful! I have a lot of wrist pain during yoga and also just throughout the day. I sometimes use the therapy balls for relief but I’m going to try to add the piano fingers too.