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Yoga for Beginners

Alleviating Aching Hands (Repetitive Stress Syndrome)

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—Valena Spradley, Lufkin, Texas

Sudha Carolyn Lundeen’s reply:

Your symptoms sound like the beginning of a repetitive stress syndrome. 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.

Why is this happening? 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.

The good news is that doesn’t have to happen. Prevention is the key. For example, take time before a photo shoot 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. You should take five- to ten-minute breaks every hour from repetitive hand motions. Set your watch to beep and take the appropriate 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.

As long as you have symptoms, either avoid yoga poses that place weight on the wrist joint, such as Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog), or modify them. For instance, in Down Dog, keep your forearms on the floor, or make fists and place the knuckle side on the floor to keep the wrists straight, or put a folded blanket under the heels of your hands, which will decrease the angle of your wrists and cause less strain. You could also experiment with a wrist brace for additional support and stability.

Sometimes it may be necessary to take a break from the activities that are causing the problem. But if the symptoms persist, consult a physical therapist, yoga therapist, or even an ergonomics expert to help assess your posture and alignment in your work place.

Sudha Carolyn Lundeen is certified as an Advanced Kripalu Yoga Instructor, Holistic Health Nurse, and Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapist. She is the former Director of Kripalu Yoga Teachers Association, has been leading programs on yoga, health, and healing for more than 20 years, and is a senior faculty member at Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health in Lenox, Massachusetts. She offers private yoga coaching and specializes in helping women navigate the experience of breast cancer.