Every day, without realizing it, we are using our wrists. In fact, you wouldn’t even be reading this article right now if you hadn’t used your wrists to access it online! Take a moment to breathe and appreciate all that your wrists do for you to support you in your daily endeavors.
This article will explain the importance of wrists and elbows as well as their anatomy and detail several yoga poses and exercises you can use to strengthen and heal these important areas of the body.
Why Wrists and Elbows are Important
The wrists allow us to move the palms forward and backward and move our hands side to side. They act as the important transition from the forearm to the hands, meaning that wrist health impacts the strength and mobility of your hands and grip.
You wouldn’t be able to type, open doors, go grocery shopping, drive, or eat—among other things—without strong wrists! Our hands are the main way we are able to take action. So the wrists are important joints of support for our hands.
The elbows also support the wrists. Issues and pain in the elbows often translate to pain and other complications further down the arms into the wrists, hands, and fingers. Strong, healthy elbows contribute to strong, healthy wrists and hands!
Wrist and Elbow Anatomy
The wrist is a complex collection of bones and joints that connects the hand to the forearm. Pretty important, right?
They contain bone, ligaments, connective tissue, muscles, and nerves. There are 15 bones that connect the forearm to the hand, 8 of which are contained in the wrists themselves. These 8 bones are known as carpal bones. Each carpal bone forms a small joint with the bone next to it, meaning that the wrist joint itself is actually made up of many much smaller joints!
The wrist would be in poor shape without its cartilage. The articular cartilage in the wrist covers the ends of each of the carpal bones, bearing weight and allowing the joints to easily slide against each other. This allows the wrist to both act as a shock absorber and operate with a full range of motion.
The two most important ligaments in the wrist are the collateral ligaments, which connect bone to bone. There are two collateral ligaments, one on each side of the wrist, that connect the forearm to the wrist.
Tendons, connecting muscle to bone, are also important to allow the wrists full functionality. Flexor tendons cross the palm side of the wrist and allow the fingers and thumb to curl. They also allow the wrist to bend.
Lastly, there are 3 critical nerves in the wrist. They are the radial nerve, medial nerve, and ulnar nerve, all of which begin in the shoulder. They function as important messengers, communicating between the brain and the wrist. Without these nerves, the brain wouldn’t be able to tell the fingers, hands, or wrists how to move. As you’ll see below, many problems occur in the wrists and hands when these nerves become pinched, inflamed, or otherwise harmed.
Do you suffer from any of these common problems?
Most problems in the wrists come from normal, everyday overuse. For many of us, our normal daily routines and activities put stress on this area of the body. Wear and tear over time can cause just as much harm as sudden injury!
Carpal tunnel is one of the most well-known and common wrist injuries. It can result in tingling, pain, or numbness in the wrists, fingers, and hands. According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, carpal tunnel actually results from a combination of factors that decrease the amount of space available for the median nerve in the wrist.
These factors can include injury, an overactive pituitary gland, fluid retention during menopause or pregnancy, arthritis, stress, an underactive thyroid gland, repeated use of vibrating hand tools, or a cyst in the nerve canal. Women are actually 3 times more likely than men to develop carpal tunnel, but the syndrome is most common in people who do assembly line work.
A pinched nerve can also occur in the elbow, causing pain, numbness, and tingling. The nerve that is most commonly pinched in this area is the ulnar nerve, found on the pinky finger side of the elbow when the palm faces up.
Cubital tunnel syndrome, similar to carpal tunnel syndrome in the wrist, affects the ulnar nerve. Like carpal tunnel syndrome, this issue can cause pain, tingling, numbness, and weakness in the muscles of the hands and arms. It is usually a result of too much pressure from bone or surrounding tissue on the ulnar nerve. This can happen if you repeatedly lean on your elbows or bend your elbow for long periods of time while sleeping or talking on the phone.
De Quervain’s disease is another wrist problem that occurs when tendons on the thumb side of the wrist become inflamed, causing pain. The pain can even radiate into the lower arm. De Quervain’s disease can be caused by direct injury, repetitive grasping, arthritis, and overuse, although it affects women 8 to 10 times more often than men.
Tendon Pain commonly occurs in the wrists as well, as a result of inflammation caused by small tears in the tissues of the tendons in the wrists. Tendon pain is a symptom of the more serious tendonitis. Common symptoms include tenderness, decreased strength, and restricted movement.
How Your Lifestyle Can Affect Wrist and Elbow Health
With all of today’s technology and the growth of office jobs, many of us spend most of our days with our wrists in the same position typing at a keyboard or bent around a phone screen. Many of our daily actions involve repetitive positions for the hands, wrists, and elbows, creating many of the ailments above.
A few of my students actually have to make fists to keep their body weight on their arms to practice a plank pose (see below), for example. Their wrists can hardly take the pressure.
Many of the most common wrist problems occur simply from the way we live. Aptly named writer’s cramps result from repeated hand and/or finger motion, particularly from typing and texting, and can result in severe pain. Doctors recommend taking frequent breaks and changing the motion itself to help heal the area.
Repetitive motion syndrome is, of course, pain and stress caused by repetitive motion. It causes inflammation, tenderness, numbing, tingling, and pain. Avoiding the repetitive activities causing the issue, strengthening exercises, and rest can all help alleviate the symptoms.
Yoga Can Help Strengthen and Heal Wrists and Elbows
If you suffer from any of the ailments discussed above, want to prevent them, or just want to strengthen the wrists and elbows, yoga can help! There are several yoga poses mentioned below that you can use to support and strengthen these critical parts of the body in a safe, healthy way. In general, yoga can also help us take a more mindful approach with our bodies each day whether we are at work, at home, or out and about.
A Strong Core Is Key
An important way to protect your wrists is to cultivate a strong core. In yoga, we spend a lot of time on our wrists, and many advanced poses require a strong wrist. Common poses including downward-facing dog, plank, and cat-cow pose put a significant amount of pressure on the wrists. The key is to activate the core and actively press off of the mat with the palms to spread the weight through the body instead of sinking into the wrists.
According to Yoga Journal, evidence-based medicine demonstrates that a strong core can increase the efficiency of your rotator cuff muscles, which stabilize your shoulders, and decrease the load that is transferred to your wrists.
Pose #1: Half-Sideways Hand Pose
Begin by standing on both feet. Adjust your body so that you are standing one arm’s distance from the wall. Then, with your arm in line with your shoulder, place the right palm firmly on the wall. The fingers are horizontal, pointing away from the shoulders. Stretch through all the fingers and gently turn your chest away from the wall. You can lean into the stretch as much as you would like for more or less intensity. Stay here for 5 to 10 breaths and then switch sides.
If it feels too intense, try shifting your palm to point the fingers up at the ceiling.
Pose #2: Cobra Variation
For a feel-good wrist stretch, take a cobra variation against the wall instead of on your mat. The standing version of this pose gives you a great upper back stretch, shoulder and neck stretch, and helps relieve the pressure you feel on your wrists throughout your daily activities.
Stand half a foot away from the wall. Press your hips to the wall so that they touch it. Keep your pelvis square and slowly draw the tailbone down as you lift your heels off the ground. Bring the fingertips to the wall on either side of your body and firmly press against the wall with your palms away from the wall, opening through the chest and lifting the chin. Lengthen the back of your neck and tuck the chin under. Stay in this pose for at least 10 to 20 long breaths, tapping into the depth of your breath.
Pose #3: Plank Pose
If you have a wrist injury, sit this one out! But plank pose is a great pose for strengthening and increasing flexibility in the wrists. From downward-facing dog (link to dd), slowly begin to shift your weight forward until your shoulders are stacked directly over your wrists.
Spread the fingers firmly on the mat and make sure you’re pressing off of the mat with your palms instead of sinking into the shoulders. Please double-check if the wrinkles of your wrists are still parallel to the top of your mat. They should be! Scoop your belly and drop the tailbone, firm the core to support yourself, and push your shoulder blades up towards the ceiling, away from the ground.
Hold this pose for 5 to 10 rounds of breath to strengthen your arms and wrists.
Pose #4: Forearm Plank
A forearm plank is a great way too to strengthen the core muscles without putting pressure on the wrists. From the plank pose above, slowly lower all the way onto the belly. Then, rest your forearms on the floor and adjust the palms so that the elbows stack directly under the shoulders. You probably have to move them further back than you think. Scoop your belly and use the core to slowly lift the hips off of the mat. Ideally, your body forms a straight line from the head to the heels, but I would rather have you think of rounding, especially your lower back a little bit. Push your shoulder blades away from the ground and up towards the ceiling. Breathe slowly for 5 to 10 breaths, then release. Repeat at least twice.
This pose strengthens the core and gluteus muscles while relieving wrist pressure.
Try these gentle exercises.
Stretch the wrists in a gentle, restorative manner by moving onto all fours. From here, rest on the backs of the palms one side at a time, your fingers pointing towards the knees. I’m sure you feel a gentle stretch in the wrists. You can also lean into the stretch further to create more intensity. The closer you walk your palms to the knees, the easier the stretch. Please stay within the pain-free range.
After sufficiently stretching on all fours, come into a comfortable seated position. You can either sit cross-legged, if this works for you, or sit on a chair. On an inhale, straighten the arms overhead. On an exhale, bend the arms. This works the wrists, elbows, and even the biceps. Try to relax your shoulders as you repeat this exercise 5 to 10 times.
From here, stretch the arms out in front of you at shoulder height. As you inhale, bend the wrists so that the fingers point up to the ceiling and the palms away from the armpits. As you exhale, bend the wrists so the fingers point down to the floor and the palms towards the armpits. Follow your breath in this way to feel a nice relieving stretch in both the forearms and the wrists.
Want more? Then join me for a simple workout for wrists HERE.
Every day, without realizing it, we use our wrists. The wrists act as the important transition from the forearm to the hands, allowing mobility of your hands and grip. Many of the most common wrist and elbow problems occur simply from the way we live. Yoga can help strengthen and heal wrists and elbows.
If you are in pain, the best therapy for your wrists is to decompress. Gentle stretches and breathing techniques may help you decompress the wrists.
Have you been waking up with knives in your hands? Do your wrists get weak or tight from work? Wouldn’t you want to loosen them right up and relieve the pain?
I do personalized healthy yoga. Let me help you with a healthy yoga sequence customized to you! Click here for your online quiz. What do you have to lose except your pain?
Info about Me
I’m Chi. I’ve always been passionate about healing and empowerment.
I work as a catalyst for personal transformation. I help you explore the best version of yourself, and yoga is a fantastic tool to accomplish that goal. I am a certified yoga therapist and a classically trained jazz vocalist, and I hold a Ph.D. in Communications. I look forward to practicing with you!
Apt, Marla. Wrist Relief: 6 Poses for RSI (Repetitive Stress Injury). https://yogainternational.com/article/view/wrist-relief-6-poses-for-rsi-repetitive-stress-injury. [Accessed May 2018]
eOrthopod. Wrist Anatomy. A Patient’s Guide to Wrist Anatomy. http://eorthopod.com/wrist-anatomy/. [Accessed May 2018]
Long, Ray. Anatomy 101: 8 Poses to Strengthen Your Wrists + Prevent Injury. http://www.yogajournal.com/slideshow/anatomy-101-protect-wrists-yoga/. [Accessed May 2018]
WebMD. Finger, Hand, and Wrist Problems, Noninjury – Topic Overview. http://www.webmd.com/a-to-z-guides/tc/finger-hand-and-wrist-problems-noninjury-topic-overview. [Accessed May 2018]