Ask the Teacher is an advice column that connects Yoga Journal members directly with our team of expert yoga teachers. Every other week, we’ll answer a question from our readers. Submit your questions here, or drop us a line at email@example.com.
I’m starting to notice tingling and pain in my wrists when I’m in Plank or Down Dog. It’s not only impacting my practice, but also my work. I’ve started to feel it in my hands when I’m typing on my laptop.
—V. in Lufkin, Texas
For this question, we turned to Sudha Carolyn Lundeen, RN, E-RYT, a certified as a certified holistic-health nurse, an Ayurvedic health and lifestyle coach, Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapist, and a senior faculty member at Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health in Lenox, Massachusetts where she has been leading programs on yoga, health, and healing for more than 20 years. Here are her thoughts.
Your symptoms sound like the beginning of a repetitive stress injury. It can happen to anyone—computer operators, photographers, graphics designers, and anyone whose work or hobby calls for long periods of steady hand movement, and repeated grasping, turning, and twisting.
What causes repetitive stress injuries?
The meridian nerve passes through the wrist in a narrow passageway formed by the carpal bones and a tough layer of ligaments. It controls sensation in your fingers, thumb, and some muscles in your hand. Repeated motions cause the finger tendons (that also pass through that tunnel) to swell and press the nerve against the bone. If the movement patterns that cause the symptoms continue, the hands can eventually lose their ability to firmly grasp objects or even suffer permanent damage.
Preventing repetitive stress injuries
The good news is that doesn’t have to happen. Prevention is the key. For example, take time to warm up the wrist joint and fingers by simply opening and closing your fist a dozen times. Another exercise is to rotate the hands clockwise for 15 seconds and then reverse the direction.
Also, massage your arms from the fingers up to the elbows and begin to build strength. One of the simplest ways to do this is to squeeze and release a tennis ball several times a day, or place the tips of your fingertips together and press into each other.
It is vital that you consistently release tension throughout the day too. Every hour, take a five- to ten-minute break from repetitive hand motions. (Set a timer so you won’t forget.) Use that time to move, massage, and shake out the fingers and wrists. Roll the shoulders and relax the neck muscles by lowering the chin to the chest and rolling the head from side to side.
Modify your asana practice
As long as you have symptoms, either avoid or modify yoga poses that place weight on the wrist joint, such as Plank Pose or Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog). For instance, in Down Dog, make fists and place your knuckles on the floor to keep the wrists straight. Or place your forearms on the floor and practice Dolphin Pose, instead. Make use of props and supports. A folded blanket under the heels of your hands will decrease the angle of your wrists and cause less strain. You might also experiment with a wrist brace for additional support and stability—while you are practicing and throughout your day.
Sometimes it’s necessary to take a break from the activities that are causing the problem. But you don’t have to miss your yoga practice altogether. Almost all yoga postures have hands-free variations. Most can be done in a chair.
As for addressing how this is affecting you at work, you may want to invest in having an ergonomics expert to help assess your posture and alignment in your workplace. They can give you tips on how to support your body to prevent repetitive stress injuries.
If your symptoms persist, consult a physical therapist, yoga therapist, or a trusted health professional.
Got a question about alignment in a certain yoga pose? Want to better understand an aspect of yoga philosophy? Need advice on how to approach a challenging situation in your class? Submit your questions here or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, and we may answer it in an upcoming column.
This article has been updated. It was originally published on August 28, 2007.