Hand balances are a common part of yoga practice. We move from chaturanga, to downward facing dog, to upward facing dog several times during practice. Thus causing the joints of the hand, elbow and shoulder to be at risk of injury. Injuries from yoga are common. The causes of joint injury may include: stiffness, hyper-mobility, muscle weakness, or performing hand balances improperly. We should not underestimate the importance the elbow joint has in the safety of practice. The elbows are situated between two mobile joints and are prone to strain.
Like the knee, the elbow is also a complex hinge joint. Like a hinge to a door, this type of joint allows primarily one plane of motion. In the elbow, there are 4 joints (3 bones) that enable not only bending and straightening (flexion and extension), but also rotating the hand up and down. The elbow joint is designed to be stable. In addition to ligaments, there are 16 muscles that control movement in the elbow, wrist and hand. Seven muscles that cross the elbow control the elbow specifically, and the other nine control the wrist and hand. When we lack stability in the elbow joint itself through injury, we rely more heavily on muscle groups to provide the stability we lack.
If we maintain proper alignment during hand balances, it will give the muscles the advantage they need to function most effectively. As we move from plank pose to chaturanga to upward facing dog, a tremendous amount of strain is placed on the joints if they are not aligned properly. With the hands placed firmly on the ground, you are immobilizing your wrists. The pressure of your hands against the ground provides the joints stability as the muscles attempt to flex against a solid surface. However, this action may be more difficult if our wrists our wrists are stiff and tight. Not being able to achieve a solid grip or hand placement on the floor,leaves one feeling unstable through the wrists and elbows, creating strain on the joints. In chaturanga for example, we need adequate flexibility to get the hands back far enough by the rib-cage so that the elbows are at an optimal 90 degrees. This position also requires shoulder flexibility to keep the elbows close to the body and scapula firm on the rib cage so the shoulders don’t come forward. Therefore, it may be necessary to modify this pose to avoid unnecessary strain to the joints. Building strength to support our weight takes work and practice. Modifying poses like plank and chaturanga by putting the knees on the mat is a great way to build strength over time.
Following these safety tips will prevent unnecessary injuries during yoga, creating a more enjoyable practice.
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