With some precautions, yoga should ease repetitive muscle strain. Here's what you should know about the benefits of yoga for repetitive muscle strains.
Losing the ability to perform a favorite hobby, even an occupation, can be devastating. Office workers, musicians, knitters, cashiers, woodworkers, machinists — all may be at risk for repetitive stress conditions over time.
Repetitive motion can take a toll on anyone. Science hasn’t yet pinpointed a conclusive cause for repetitive stress injuries, but studies suggest women are more likely to have them than men. Those most at risk may also have sedentary lifestyles.
However they happen, soreness, pain, and stiffness shouldn’t be ignored. Over time, they can lead to repetitive stress syndrome — an umbrella term that includes conditions like tendonitis (inflammation of tendons, such as the arms or wrists) and carpal tunnel syndrome, which in its advanced form may require surgery.
While you should practice it with precautions, yoga can help these conditions — and, some yogis report, even clear them up.
The following recommendations are meant for anyone experiencing repetitive stress in their wrists, arms, shoulders, and back. (Those with tennis elbow or thoracic outlet syndrome — two other variations of repetitive stress — should seek recommendations specific to those conditions from qualified physical therapists or yoga instructors.)
Avoid placing weight on your hands. Poses like Downward-Facing Dog, Dolphin, Plank, and even Cat or Cow Pose — not to mention arm balances like Crow — can seem out of reach for those with tight wrist tendons or forearm pain. If you’re just starting a yoga practice and experiencing any pain in these poses, hold off and avoid them.
A modification can help. Rather than putting weight on your hands, try:
- Using push-up stands (like these) instead of placing your hands directly on the floor
- Placing a foam roller or folded blanket underneath your palms to take pressure off your wrists
- Balling your hands up and resting weight on your fists
Watch for pain, numbness, or tingling in your wrists or arms — and east back immediately if you feel any.
Focus on gentle lengthening. This will have a cascade effect throughout your body while improving everyday posture. A pose like Warrior II can be highly fatiguing for those with repetitive stress issues in the arms, for example, but it is one of the quickest routes to regaining range of motion in the arms and shoulders. Stop when you can no longer hold the pose correctly (always keep proper alignment to avoid injury), or if you are in even slight pain. Try the sequence of stretches in Yoga for Back Pain for more ways to loosen up tight wrists, arms, and shoulders.
Prioritize strength. Those with repetitive stress injuries may over-rely on tendons, ligaments, and joints to do work that muscles should be performing. Strength building takes the pressure off these vulnerable spots. As you strengthen your shoulders, back, and core, for example, your posture will improve, easing hunched shoulders that lead to arm tendon tightness and constriction. Build strength in your thighs, and your knee joints won’t need to work as hard. Flexibility takes time to develop, so never push yourself in stretching, such as in a seated forward fold, which could put already stressed ligaments at risk: instead, consider a slight stretch enough at each practice. And try not to “sit in your joints” in poses — if you’re sagging at the hips in a lunge, for example, ease up by grabbing a block or dropping a knee to the floor.
Patience is key. Take a few days off between each practice, or alternate active and restorative practices, to let your body incorporate changes. Expect some soreness as you build strength and recover range of motion. Fatigue is particularly important to avoid while practicing, again to avoid straining ligaments and tendons.
You’re likely to begin feeling the benefits of a gentle practice quickly. Still, a pose like Downward Dog can take six months to a year to work up to for someone with an advanced repetitive stress condition, even when practicing yoga up to three times a week. The payoff, though, could be huge — once you’re able to safely do Downward Dog, wrist and shoulder issues will dramatically improve.
June 19, 2018
Janet O’Dell, RN