Question: Ask Aunt Yoga Advice Column - Adaptations and Props for Wrist Pain
Dear Aunt Yoga,
I would like to be able to do poses like plank and chaturanga, but I have osteoarthritis in both wrists. This makes it very painful and difficult, but I would still like to increase my upper body strength and tone my upper arms. Can you suggest other poses that I could try?
Answer: Dear E.M.,
I have good news and bad news. Let's get the bad out of the way first: Most yoga poses that strengthen and tone the upper body do require that some pressure be placed on the wrists. The good news is, depending on your medical restrictions and level of pain, a number of adaptations may allow you to safely practice these poses.
For those who have occasional, mild wrist pain, changing the way you place weight on your hands may be enough. In poses like downward facing dog, there is a tendency to dig the wrists into the mat, which causes pain. To counteract this, you must pay attention to how you place your hands in every weight-bearing pose. First, spread the fingers nice and wide. Make sure the middle fingers are parallel to one another. Bring pressure into each of your fingers, all the way down to the tips. Also remember to engage your leg muscles strongly so that they can carry some of your weight. All of this will lighten the load on your wrists, which may be enough the relieve pain. Another option is to make your hands into fists in these poses, letting the weight fall on the knuckles.
Those with more severe wrist issues may be able to get some relief from props. A yoga wedge made of foam or cork can be used under the wrists to soften the angle of extension. Gripitz are barbell-like blocks that allow you to keep the wrist in a neutral position in poses like plank and chaturanga. [Note: Unfortunately, Gripitz seem to be out of production. I'm on the lookout for an alternative.]
Finally, we come to the solution for those with the most severe wrist problems: avoidance. If none of the above solutions allow you to do poses without pain, or if your doctor advises you to avoid putting any pressure on the wrists at all, you can still do poses like downward facing dog and plank by coming onto your forearms (dolphin pose) instead. Poses like warrior II and this variation of extended side angle, where the arms are held parallel to the floor will also tone the biceps and triceps.
Remember to get your doctor's opinion on whether your condition precludes putting weight on the wrists!
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