My Wrists Hurt When I Do Down Dog – What Should I Do?
For most people new to yoga it is common to have some wrist pain while in Downward Dog. This will typically resolve with practice and proper technique. The three keys to resolving wrist pain in Down Dog are:
- Improve technique
- Strengthen the wrists
- Increase wrist flexibility
These things will happen over time with sincere practice and helpful guidance. The list below will point out the specific things you can do now to steadily overcome this challenge.
1. In Downward Dog spread your fingers wide apart
When you spread your fingers and thumbs apart you have a wider base to hold your body weight. The more even distribution of weight will take some of the load off the wrists, thereby reducing pain.
2. Push your fingers and thumbs into the floor
Doing this takes even more of the weight burden off of your wrists and distributes it to your entire palm, thumbs, and fingers. Be sure to keep your entire hand flat on the floor. Some people lift their palm and just use their fingers. This is not the typical correct technique. Regarding the weight you are holding with your hands, strive to have about 60% of that amount on your fingers and thumbs, and about 40% on your palms.
3. Put more weight on your feet and less on your hands
Now that you are using more of your fingers and thumbs to help support the weight, try pushing your fingers into the floor as if you are going to press the back of your thighs against the wall behind you. Do this without walking your hands and feet closer to each other. Not only is this a great stretch for you spine, but it also allows your legs to do more work, while your upper body does less in downward dog. Once again, you might have about 60% of the weight in your legs and about 40% in your hands.
4. Remember you can modify by putting knees on the ground or resting in Child’s Pose
Be mindful of how your wrists are feeling. A little discomfort might be OK, but if it starts feeling too extreme try doing hands and knees in place of Down Dog for a while. You can also put your knees on the floor during Plank and Chataranga (bent armed plank). If it still feels too intense drop down into Child’s Pose and take a rest until you feel ready to start back up. You can even rest during the parts that use wrists, like Down Dog, Plank, etc., and then come out of Child’s Pose for the standing parts of class.
5. If the pain seems overly severe or you think you have an injury seek advice from a doctor
For most people wrist pain will steadily go away with practice. For some people, there could be other problems going on that need the assistance of a doctor. If you do need medical advice tell your doctor you are practicing yoga and ask for his input. Most health challenges are helped by yoga, however, your doctor might give you some specific guidelines that will help you heal.
6. Consider using props
If your challenge is an injury or illness you might find it helpful to use props. There are a variety of props you can use in Down Dog in place of putting your hands on the floor. You can use the wall or a chair. You can use rectangular blocks to help you learn to put more weight back on your legs and less on your hands. On the unconventional (but effective side) you can grip the handles of dumbbell weights placed on the floor. You can even use a slanted yoga “block” so that your fingers are facing downhill on the block and your wrists are at the top. This decreases the angle your wrists have to bend and is particularly helpful if you have less flexibility or an illness/health challenge. When using any of these props, be sure you have placed your props sturdily on the ground so they will not slip.
7. Hang in there and keep practicing mindfully
If you keep at it, your form will get better, your muscles will strengthen, and your wrists will become more flexible. Before you know it, your wrists will feel fine during every practice. If you stay mindful during practice and NOTICE how you are feeling you can remind yourself to back off when it feels to intense and thus avoid causing yourself and injury. The saying in yoga is “GO TO THE EDGE OF THE DISCOMFORT.” A little is OK, but if it feels too much (or unsafe, or is violating your doctor’s advice) back off and rest until you feel ready to start back in. The skills we learn in overcoming these challenges in our practice is invaluable.
The goal in yoga is not just the end pose, it is what we learn and become while attaining it. Master teacher Pattabhi Jois said:
“With yoga all is possible.”