• 10 Actions That Could Leave You With a Yoga Injury – Part 4 | Bernadette Birney: It's about yoga (sort of)

    10 Actions That Could Leave You With a Yoga Injury – Part 4

    We practice yoga because we think it’s good for our bodies. And it is. Or—it can be. As I like to say, “Yoga is a powerful practice. Powerful practices can have powerful benefits—or be powerfully injurious.”

    Having an understanding of which actions can be injurious to which specific parts of the body, why that is so, and what to do about it is important. This knowledge will help you maximize yoga’s benefits while minimizing risks. The list of actions in this series is not comprehensive but it’s an excellent resource to help you begin to make educated choices.

    Risk #4 – Weight-bearing on overly extended wrists.
    Under optimal circumstances the average human wrist can safely bear weight upon about 90º of extension. Give or take. Note that I wrote, “under optimal circumstances”. So that means–when the wrist’s ROM (Range of Motion) is unrestricted. When the bones and soft tissue are strong enough. When the soft tissue has enough flexibility. When the carpal tunnel is not congested or inflamed. When the wrists are injury free.

    If the wrists are tight, the shoulders are tight, or any of the above conditions are compromised then 90º of extension may be overly ambitious and injurious.

    Plank with wrists extended to 90º:
    Plank 90

    Plank with wrists (incorrectly) extended beyond 90º. Note the acute angle between the wrist and forearm. (I actually often see this demonstrated far more dramatically in class but didn’t want to ask my goodnatured model to compromise her wrists too much):
    Plank More than 90


    Plank modified so that the student’s feet have been walked further back away from her hands in order to decrease wrist extension. Note the obtuse angle between the wrist and forearm:
    Plank Less than 90


    Inner edges of the hands poorly rooted:
    Poorly Rooted Hands


    Hands (incorrectly) turned in:
    Hands Turned In


    Well-rooted hands:
    Good Hands

    What this means for yogis:

    • Teach students how to root down the inner edges of their hands. When the hands peel up in this fashion the wrists are even more vulnerable. (See photo above.)
    • Teach students to set their wrist creases parallel with the front of their mat. They can even turn their hand a bit wider than that if their shoulders are tight. Do not allow students to turn their hands in. (See photo.)
    • Poses like Plank, Chaturanga Dandasana, Cobra, Bakasana, Vashistasana, Handstand, Arm Balances and even Downward Facing Dog may be too much on the wrists. 
    • Teach students how to work their hands for optimal support. (Look for a future post on the subject.)
    • Modify Plank, Cobra, Updog and Vashistasana by having students walk their feet further back away from their hands in order to decrease wrist extension and take pressure off the wrists. When wrist extension is decreased the angle between the hand and the forearm will increase to become an obtuse angle. See photo above.  
    • Further modify Plank, Cobra, Updog and Vashistasana by decreasing the weight-bearing load. Instruct students to drop their knees to the floor if necessary. 
    • Further modify Plank, Cobra, Updog and Vashistasana and all poses in which the hands bear weight on the floor by using a wedge beneath the student’s hands. The widest part of the wedge should be placed beneath the heels of the hands. The narrowest part of the wedge should be closest to the fingertips. I frequently see this prop used incorrectly. When that happens pressure on the wrist is actually increased rather than decreased!
    • Modify arm balances by revolving them in space so that students can safely practice them while lying on their backs.
    • Swap out Down Dog for Dolphin Dog–which is just like Down Dog except the forearms are on the floor–or instruct students to practice with their hands on a wall for Wall Dog.
    • Modify by eliminating vinyasas, reducing vinyasas, and/or taking supported vinyasas with the knees dropped to the floor for greater support.
    • If the above modifications do not eradicate wrist pain then eliminate the pose that is causing the pain. 


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    7 Responses »

    1. Very much in agreement with all of this! Nicely written and organized.

      Wondering if the “dramatic ….compromised” comment is referring to the obtuse angle description it follows – or was that meant for the acute angle in the paragraph above it?


    2. …nice post. I do planks on my nuckles to avoid any wrist to shoulder strain. Any reason you think palm-to-floor planks are more advantageous? Thanks! :o)

      • I think it depends. Working on knuckles is one viable way, and certainly eliminates wrist flexion so it’s a good choice if there’s an injury or restriction in ROM. It doesn’t provide the same solid foundation or sensitivity that working with the palms face down does. So–I think it’s useful when it’s useful and not ideal in every circumstance.

    3. Hi Bernadette –

      As an anatomy for yoga teachers educator, I’ve been enjoying reading your recent posts that focus on injury awareness/prevention. On the technical side, what you’re actually describing above are the risks of too much wrist extension (not flexion, wherein the palm moves toward the anterior forearm). In addition to what you wrote, where I see students hyperextend the wrists the most is in the transition between Chaturanga and Upward Facing Dog (if they roll over the feet with first gliding them back on the mat), and in Upward Facing Bow (aka Wheel) if they lack flexibility in the shoulders. I personally rarely teach Upward Bow in open level classes anymore, as I feel that there are so many students who end up hyperextending their wrists. When I do teach it, we go to the wall and I show the option to use yoga blocks wedged at a 45 degree angle between the wall and floor.

      • DOH! You’re so right! What a brain fart! I Can’t believe I missed that! Thanks so much for pointing it out, Jason!

        I entirely agree with you on your point of crazy hyperextension of the wrist when transitioning from Chaturanga to Cobra or Updog. I’m not a fan of rolling over the feet without moving them back first either. I love the blocks at the wall, too.

        Thanks so much for taking the time to comment. I’m correcting the post.


    1. 10 Actions That Could Leave You With a Yoga Injury | Bernadette Birney: It's about yoga (sort of)

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