Wrist Pain Yoga: Why It Happens And How To Avoid It

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It often only takes one yoga class or a couple of poses at home on your first yoga mat to fall in love with yoga.

Yoga can leave you feeling physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually better both during and after your workout.

However, after you return to the present moment after a blissful Savasana (Corpse Pose) and start rolling up your yoga mat to move on with your day, you might notice your wrists aren’t enjoying the effects of your yoga practice as much as the rest of your body, mind, and soul.

Wrist pain yoga is a fairly common complaint, especially amongst beginner yogis and those who do a lot of poses that require weight bearing through the wrists.

Various yoga poses can cause wrist pain if not performed properly or if you have other risk factors.

In this article, we will discuss yoga and wrist pain, addressing topics like how to reduce the risk of wrist pain from yoga and how to modify yoga poses for wrist pain so that you can maintain your practice while you heal.

We will cover: 

  • Can Yoga Cause Sore Wrists?
  • Why Does Yoga Hurt My Wrists?
  • 11 Tips to Avoid Wrist Pain Yoga

Let’s jump in!

a woman holding her wrist in pain

Can Yoga Cause Sore Wrists?

Certain yoga poses are particularly unkind to our wrists because they either load the wrists with too much weight or put the wrists in a position that is not optimized from a biomechanical standpoint.

Examples include Downward-Facing Dog Pose, Plank Pose, Upward-Facing Dog Pose, Elephant’s Trunk Pose, Crow Pose, and Wheel Pose to name a few.

Why Does Yoga Hurt My Wrists?

Comparing the wrists to the ankles, the wrists are relatively slender joints that are designed for mobility more than stability and strength.

In contrast, the ankles are structured to prioritize strength, stability, and weight-bearing support over freedom of movement in all directions.

In other words, we want to be able to freely move our hands in all sorts of ways but we aren’t going to be weight bearing through the wrists because we don’t walk on our hands.

As such, the anatomy of the wrist is relatively delicate.

Made up of eight small bones known as carpal bones, the wrist joint is relatively vulnerable to injury because the ligaments that hold the carpal bones together, and the muscles that control the wrist and hand, are delicate tissues that are not designed to withstand heavy loads.

a close up of a woman's wrists as she does yoga

There is also an anatomical passage known as the carpal tunnel that houses many nerves and blood vessels that control the movement, sensation, and circulation to the wrist and hand. 

This passage is extremely narrow, so any inflammation to the surrounding muscles, tendons, ligaments, or other tissues can cause pressure on the nerves and vasculature in the carpal tunnel.

This can result in pain, discomfort, numbness, tingling, or other changes in temperature or sensation in the wrist or hand.

The carpal tunnel is especially compressed when you extend your wrist, which involves bringing the topside of your hand (opposite the palm) up towards the direction of the back of your forearm.

To visualize wrist extension, think about showing your palm outward as if giving someone the “stop” sign.

Experienced yogis can imagine wrist extension by thinking about the position of your wrists in Añjali Mudrā (Prayer Position).

Unfortunately, many asanas involve wrist extension.

Although wrist extension is fine when you aren’t loading your wrists (as in Añjali Mudrā), when your wrists are extended and you’re pressing a significant percentage of your body weight through them, problems can ensue.

For example, in Downward-Facing Dog Pose, the extension and weight-bearing through the wrists can compress the delicate soft tissues in the carpal tunnel and overload the strength capacity of the small carpal bones and little muscles, tendons, and ligaments in the wrists.

three women doing downward dog on yoga mats

You can also get wrist pain from yoga poses that put the wrist into extreme flexion (palm facing your inner forearm).

When your wrists are flexed, the wrist is not very stable, so there’s a risk of spraining your wrist.

wrist pain yoga- 11 tips to avoid it

If you have an acute wrist injury from yoga or sharp pain, you consult with your doctor or physical therapist before continuing your yoga practice.

However, if you have mild wrist pain or deal with chronic sore wrists after yoga, it’s probably safe to continue practicing yoga with a few modifications.

The following tips can help prevent wrist pain from yoga:

#1: Bring the Ground Up to Your Body

Yoga props exist for a reason. Using yoga blocks, wedges, bolsters, or pillows to modify yoga poses that require weight bearing through your wrists in the floor is one of the best ways to reduce wrist pain during yoga.

By bringing the ground up to your hands rather than your hands down to the ground, your hands will absorb a smaller percentage of your body weight.

a woman doing a low lunge using yoga blocks for wrist pain yoga

Picture Downward-Facing Dog Pose, for example.

If you elevate your upper body by placing your hands up on one or two yoga blocks but keep your feet flat on the floor, your weight will shift from being borne equally between your hands and feet to being supported more significantly by your legs.

This will reduce the pressure, stress, and strain on your wrists.

#2: Use Your Whole Hand

One of the best ways to reduce the stress and strain on your wrists during yoga is to make sure your entire hand is in contact with the mat and that you’re weight bearing evenly through both hands.

Distributing your weight evenly between both hands as well as evenly across each entire hand and fingers within the same hand will help ensure the stress on your wrists is minimized. 

Spread your fingers as wide as possible and keep your hands under your shoulders to distribute your weight more comfortably. 

The more surface area you have in contact with the ground, the lower the magnitude of force applied to any given area of your wrist. 

a woman doing side plank yoga pose with her leg in the air

#3: Prepare Your Wrists

In much the same way that you warm up the body with a few easy poses and stretches before getting into a more intense flow, it’s a good idea to warm up your wrists with some stretches and gentle mobility exercises before you start your yoga workout.

Flex, extend, and rotate your wrists around to warm up the tissues.

#4: Consciously Shift Your Weight

You can modify yoga poses for wrist pain by shifting your weight to the other supporting body parts.

For example, in Upward-Facing Dog Pose, you can shift more weight to your legs to offload the wrists.

#5: Bend Your Knees

Poses that require a lot of weight bearing through the hands, such as Plank Pose, Side Plank, or Downward-Facing Dog, can be modified to reduce wrist pain by bending your knees or dropping them to the floor to help support your body weight.

a man doing upward facing dog yoga pose in a park

#6: Use a Thinner Yoga Mat

While a thick yoga mat or doing yoga on the beach or grass can be very comfortable if you don’t have wrist pain, softer surfaces make it more difficult to support your body in the proper alignment.

As a result, the workload on your wrists—as well as the risk of tweaking these relatively weak joints—increases.

Consider switching to a thinner yoga mat, a woven yoga rug, or practicing directly on a hardwood floor. 

#7: Modify Poses By Using Your Forearms or Fists

Many yoga poses that cause wrist pain can be modified by taking the wrist out of extension or loading weight through the fists or forearms instead of the hands.

For example, you can drop your forearms down to do Dolphin Pose instead of pressing through your hands in Downward-Facing Dog and do Sphinx Pose instead of Cobra.

a woman doing a forearm plank yoga pose

#8: Strengthen Your Core

It may seem unrelated, but a strong core can reduce the risk of wrist pain from yoga by helping absorb and control weight distribution and balance.

For instance, actively engaging your core during Crow Pose can alleviate some of the pressure on your wrists because your muscles will be doing more work instead of placing it all on the bones and joints.

Poses like Low Plank, Boat Pose, and Warrior III can help build strength in your core.

#9: Upgrade Your Yoga Blocks

Wrist Buddy Yoga Blocks are designed to alleviate pressure on the wrist and distribute your weight through your entire palm, helping you feel maximally stable and secure with no discomfort.

These yoga blocks incorporate contours to match the anatomical shape of your fingers and hands in common yoga poses.

a man doing a knee to nose yoga plank pose in a white room

#10: Wear Wrist Wraps

Wrist wraps can provide gentle compression and support to your wrists, so they can be helpful for yogis with mild wrist pain.

#11: Progress Gradually

Just as your legs have to adapt to running when you first start, your wrists have to adapt to yoga.

There’s far more pressure and weight pressed through your wrists during a yoga class than when you’re just going about your normal day.

Therefore, give your body time to adapt when you first start yoga. Progress gradually, doing just a few asanas a few days a week with plenty of rest in between workouts.

Most importantly, listen to your body and be sure to stop any asanas that elicit wrist pain, or work with a physical therapist or yoga instructor to help you modify your practice..

If you’re eager to find more ways to practice yoga with wrist pain, check out this helpful workout video with lots of tips and tricks for modifying yoga poses for sore wrists.

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Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, and contributes to several fitness, health, and running websites and publications. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

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