I enjoy yoga but all those "downward-facing dogs" and "high to low planks" can cause pain in my wrist joints. Can you recommend specific exercises for strengthening my wrists?

ask the trainer, jim beatty

Let's take a good look at the wrists and how they pertain to the rest of the body, and we should be able to see why they hurt and what you can do to help them. The wrist is an impressive part of the body, made up of 2 big bones of the forearm (radius and ulna) and a group of 8 smaller bones in the hand called the carpals, and together their primary purpose is motion rather than weight-bearing. However, in yoga we often times ask this joint to take a lot of stress, and sometimes the delicate structure of this joint will let you know that it's not happy.


It's important to be aware of the fragile nature of the wrist with its bones, tendons, and ligaments when practicing yoga. Strengthening the wrists is really about strengthening the muscles of the forearms (flexors and extensors). You can make your hands stronger and more flexible by working with the fingers and squeezing different size objects, but it is really your arms, chest and core muscles that lift and support the torso in inversions. The wrists and hands are merely the base of support.


To strengthen the forearms begin with a few simple exercises:


Hand Squeezes - squeeze an old tennis ball or other soft ball for 30-60 seconds. Repeat several times a day. Be aware of squeezing with the entire hand, and this will improve your grip strength dramatically.


Wrist Curls – use a light weight (2-5lbs), and with palms up, curl the hands toward the forearm. Be aware of working in straight lines so that you use all the flexor muscles of the forearm.


Wrist Extensions – again, use a light weight and with palms down, curl the backs of the hands toward the forearm. Again work in straight lines to be sure to use all the extensor muscles of the forearm.


Interestingly enough, a high percentage of wrist problems have their origin in shoulder weakness and misalignments. It will be helpful to open and balance the shoulders through a variety of exercises and poses performed with good alignment. Exercises focused on pulling the shoulders back and down will help the shoulders, increase circulation and therefore help the wrists as well.


As far as your yoga goes, you may need to eliminate the poses that are causing you pain for a while to allow the inflamed tissue to heal. Ask your yoga instructor to pay close attention to the position of your hands and wrists in all poses so that unnecessary stress doesn't keep accumulating.


The wrist is a complicated structure and can develop many problems other than the soreness that comes from unaccustomed weight-bearing and extension. If you have more serious wrist problems—like carpal tunnel syndrome, arthritis, or previous fracture or surgery sites, or if your pain continues — please consult your health care provider before attempting anymore weight-bearing poses.