Text Claw Blues: Yoga for Hands and Wrists in the Digital Age

The hands and wrists are the means with which we express, communicate and create. In yoga, they hold mudras, rest in meditation, reach to the sky and hold all of our body weight in arm balances. Their high level of dexterity, facility, and range of motion is due to a complex anatomical framework. This framework spans from the fingertips all the way up through the shoulders, due to the nature of nerve and muscle pathways.

The technological age has been changing what we ask of this framework, day in and day out. Many people work all day on computers, then text and type on tablets or mobile devices in off-hours. This frequency of use can cause Repetitive Stress Injury (RSI), which has been linked to Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS) and related complications.

For CTS patients, a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed that yoga brings moderately more effective outcomes than wrist splinting (another common treatment) or no treatment at all. Yet this result should come with a note of the due caution; some postures that place direct weight on the hands and wrists, such as Downward Facing Dog Pose, Plank Pose, and arm balances, should be modified for RSI and CTS patients (such as with yoga wedges or a wall as a prop). 

In some cases, these poses should be avoided entirely. It’s best for these patients to work with an experienced instructor, and go slowly while watching for any sharp pain (a clear sign to back off). For anyone, it is best for these poses (and, truly, yoga overall) to be practiced with medicine’s first rule: first, do no harm.    

When placing any weight on the hands and wrists, from Tabletop Pose to Downward Facing Dog to Handstand Pose, be sure to fully distribute weight through the hands (no parts popping up from the floor). 

Spin biceps forward and triceps back to properly secure the shoulders and avoid causing problems there (which, as discussed, can show up later in the hands and wrists). If you need to point your fingers just slightly outward in order to keep hands fully down and biceps spinning forward, do so.

Yet, just as with any area of the body, increasing oxygenated blood flow (stretching paired with deep breathing) and a mindful approach to intentional relaxation can help ease muscular tension and facilitate the healing process. This can help calm the inflammation at the root of these overuse-related complications.

In addition, concerning hand and wrist complications, impingements and other issues in the shoulder girdle can shoot down the nerve pathway down to the hand structure and show up as pain there. Yoga practice promotes healthier posture (in asana, pranayama, and meditation), which can help ease those issues in the upper back and shoulders. 

All considered, though the science is not fully conclusive, we can experience how yoga’s physical practices can help ease hand and wrist pain. They can better align posture, as well as facilitate healing and reduce inflammation through increasing oxygenated blood. Try the postures and movements we describe below. The mindfulness and philosophical parts of yoga also help us to experience discomfort with more calm and objectivity, so we can focus on solutions rather than unpleasant experience.

And lifestyle also matters; maybe rather than writing one more text or email on your phone, after you’ve been typing all day at work, give your hands an open-and-close stretch. Close your eyes, breath, and focus back inwards. Then you can go back to your device. Hey, you’ve just done yoga—and you didn’t even have to put on any leggings!

Hand and Wrist Help in Seated Posture:     Badha Konasana

1.Practice Hero’s Pose (Virasana), Baddha Konasana, or Easy Pose (Sukhasana), whichever feels best for you today. Whichever pose you choose, check that your pelvis is tipping slightly forward (with your tailbone pointing back) to avoid rounding the lower back, which creates strain. If your pelvis is tilting backward, sit on a block, blanket, or bolster—high enough so that your pelvis can tilt forward so that you maintain your natural lumbar curve. Feel rooted through your seat, yet lifted through your torso.

2.Take slow, easy rolls through your wrists, going through the joint’s full range of motion, 10 times in each direction. Make a fist and then release it 10 times. Then give your hands a few generous (but short of aggressive) shakes to release any residual tension.

3.Clasp your fingers and face your palms downwards. Then take the clasp forward and up to face your palms to the sky. Additional options here include side bending and twisting with your hands in this position. Ensure that you’re staying rooted and stable in your hips. Enjoy the movement and stretching.

Hand and Wrist Help from Tabletop Pose:   

1.The weight bearing position in itself can offer great stretching and strengthening, but—particularly with cases of RSI—caution is due. See the guidelines above for safety and which poses to modify or avoid. As with any condition, alert your yoga instructor and ask them for any appropriate modifications.

2.Take a few Cat/Cow Pose rounds. Then try some circles through the shoulders and hips while still on all fours. This adds weight bearing to the circling movements.

3.This next option may not advisable with cases of RSI, or the more advanced and potentially severe CTS (Carpal Tunnel Syndrome). Again, go slowly, listen to emerging sensations, backing off with any significant discomfort, and certainly with any sign of sharp pain. In Tabletop Pose, turn your fingers backward to face your knees (rather than forwards to face away from them). If this still feels okay, bring your shoulders slightly forward to past your wrists. This can bring a lot of sensation, so go slowly and be gentle. Back off a bit if it starts to feel like too much. In yoga, those are good overall guidelines!

Hand and Wrist Help in Supine Pose:   

1.Let your backside melt into your mat here. There’s nothing really to activate, and certainly nothing to “muscle.” An option is to take a version of Viparita Karani (Legs Up the Wall Pose), perhaps with a block under your low back to create an extra inversion effect.

2.Raise your arms to vertical, letting your shoulders soften and relax into your mat. Take a few wrist rolls to ease any leftover cramping or tension. Then let your wrists dangle for a few breaths to let gravity encourage a stretch in your forearms. Then extend hands toward your face, flex back towards your legs, and then move back and forth a few more times.

3.Extend one hand back toward your head (stretching the flexors of your forearms) and place the other hand on top of it, fingers pointing in the opposite direction (toward your legs). Apply gentle pressure with your top hand to create a light stretch for flexors of your forearms. Hold for a few breaths, then do the same on the other hand. Breathe deeply, and enjoy the feeling of this gentle yoga for your hands and wrists.

Want more yoga practice tips from writer, Kathryn Boland?  Read this one: Feeling Stressed-Let Warrior Pose Unleash your Inner Strength.

Want to learn more about yoga and healthy aging?  Study with YogaUOnline and Dr. Loren Fishman and Ellen Saltonstall – Yoga for Healthy Hands and Wrists

Kathryn Boland is an RCYT and R-DMT (Registered Dance/Movement Therapist). She is originally from Rhode Island, attended The George Washington University (Washington, DC) for an undergraduate degree in Dance (where she first encountered yoga), and Lesley University for an MA in Clinical Mental Health Counseling, Expressive Therapies: Dance/Movement Therapy. She has taught yoga to diverse populations in varied locations. As a dancer, she has always loved to keep moving and flowing in practicing more active Vinyasa-style forms. Her interests have recently evolved to include Yin and therapeutic yoga, and aligning those forms with Laban Movement Analysis to serve the needs of various groups (such as Alzheimer’s Disease patients, children diagnosed with ADHD, PTSD-afflicted veterans – all of which are demographically expanding). She believes in finding the opportunity within every adversity, and doing all that she can to help others live with a bit more breath and flow!

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