5 tips to avoid wrist pain in yoga

What causes wrist pain in yoga and how can we prevent it? Plus, we suggest some wrist-friendly yoga classes.

wrist pain yoga

Wrist pain – the curse of the modern yogi!

Wrist pain can occur for all sorts of reasons – injury, lack of strength, Arthritis, incorrect alignment, Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, Repetitive Strain Injury… and our modern yoga practice can sometimes ask a lot of those eight small bones which make up the wrist! Here are some tips to help you prevent pain during your practice. 

1. (Don’t) Lean on me!

In daily life our wrists spend very little time in full flexion (where the fingers move downwards towards the underside of the forearm) or full extension (where the fingers move backwards towards the back of the forearm). If strength in the wrists isn’t built up gradually or the range of movement is simply not used regularly enough, then it’s unsurprising that they will object (sometimes quite vocally) to our demand that they regularly and repetitively bear all, or part, of our body weight, whilst in full extension during an asana practice.

If strength in the wrists isn’t built up gradually or the range of movement is simply not used regularly enough, then it’s unsurprising that they will object (sometimes quite vocally) to our demand that they regularly and repetitively bear all, or part, of our body weight, whilst in full extension during an asana practice.

2. Test your range of movement

There are many techniques that will help to strengthen and protect your wrists and it’s a good idea if you’re new to yoga, to begin with gently increasing your wrists’ range of movement. To check your range of extension, lower onto all fours and place your hands, palms on the floor, directly beneath your shoulders – wrists extended to a ninety-degree angle. If you feel any discomfort or weakness in this position, it’s advisable to work on your range of mobility before building strength. Our article, Yoga Therapy for your Wrists has some helpful tips and exercises to keep your wrists happy.

3. Go gently

Of course, it’s not just new practitioners of yoga that are at risk of wrist pain – those who have been doing yoga for years may just as easily succumb to wrist pain due to over-zealous practise of Sun Salutations, Vinyasa or Ashtanga Yoga.

It can be very tempting to ignore the pain at first but injury is our body’s way of urging us to listen. Although being injured can feel very frustrating, it can also be a chance to learn about your body, its weaknesses and limitations, as well an opportunity to learn more about the pose itself, correct alignment and modifications you can make to practice more safely and harmoniously.    

For those suffering from acute arthritis, Carpal Tunnel Syndrome or RSI, it’s advisable to avoid practising weight-bearing yoga altogether until the acute phase has passed. Of course, it’s worth checking with your healthcare professional if you have any questions.

4. Modify poses

If you are new to yoga, or you are building your strength back up after a break caused by pain or injury, or you simply want to give those poor, overused wrists a break, here are some modifications you can try in a couple of the most common poses:

Downward facing dog

Stand facing the wall and place your hands against it, fingertips pointing up, roughly at the height of the hip bones and shoulder-distance apart. Begin to walk backwards away from the wall until your torso and your arms are parallel with the floor. Press into the base knuckles of the fingers (doing this in downward dog helps to alleviate pressure in your wrists too) and lengthen your spine. Draw your lower ribs in, lift through the back of your neck and press the tops of your thighs back.

Modified plank

Elbow plank is a great alternative to full plank and also has the added benefit of working your core muscles. Press your inner forearms and elbows onto the floor – hands can be flat on the floor or fingers interlaced. Firm your shoulder blades against your back by pressing the elbows into the floor, lengthen your tailbone towards the heels and press the tops of the thighs towards the ceiling.

5. Practice wrist-free yoga!

Here are some classes which don’t put weight on your wrists:

1. Hands-free yoga flow with Esther Ekhart 
Quite a strong yoga flow, without any Downward Facing Dog, Plank or Chaturanga. Great to give your hands, wrists and shoulders a break and experience yoga without weight on your arms. 

2. Hands-free, mat-free with Afke Reijenga
Get energized in just 20 minutes with this sweet sequence, which includes a breathing practice, Warrior poses but no Downward-Facing Dogs. 

3. Sweet, wrist-free flow with Jennilee Toner
Join Jennilee in this delightful wrist free practice. A subtly energising and empowering class to set you up for whatever the day ahead may bring.

3Peace Flow with Nichi Green
Like Sandra’s class but this time the palms are in Anjali Mudra in front of the chest.

4. Free wrists and shoulders with Francesca Giusti
If you still want to practice a Vinyasa flow and keep moving, without putting too much pressure on wrists and shoulders, here are some ideas on what to do and how to do it.

5. Wrist and shoulder TLC with MacKenzie Miller
Take time to properly warm up your wrists and shoulders before arm balances and inversions to help cultivate longevity in your practice! This cool down includes therapeutic stretches for your rotator cuff, shoulders and upper back!

6. Quick wrist therapy with David Lurey
A short therapeutic treatment to help relieve wrist pain that can/should be repeated several times a week.

7. Wrist friendly yoga with Jennilee Toner
A wrist friendly floor series that will warm up and stretch your wrists before heading into core strength poses on our forearms. Includes poses to create space in the upper back and shoulders too.

You can find lots more classes by filtering under the specific use: Wrist-friendly yoga

Share article
Kirsty TomlinsonKirsty took her yoga teacher training with Esther Ekhart in 2013 and moved to the Netherlands from the UK to work for EkhartYoga in 2015. She's previously worked in publishing, graphic design and legal recruitment. Her role at EkhartYoga is a varied one - content creator, teacher manager, copywriter, and dog lover. You may recognise her beloved canine, Hunter, hogging the limelight in several of our classes!