Keep Calm and Don't Plank On

Posted in Lessons from the Mat

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When I first began practicing yoga 15 years ago, I was a young, enthusiastic, ex-athlete looking for a practice that could replace the hours spent running up and down a basketball court. It may come as no surprise that I found satisfaction in a dynamic Vinyasa style practice. After a few years of happily flowing through countless planks and chaturangas, I started feeling a stiffness in my left wrist. Since it didn’t hurt, I ignored it and continued planking on. It wasn’t long before my left wrist would be sore for days after a particularly vigorous practice. Despite the symptoms, I did not attempt to treat the source of my discomfort other than resting my wrist for a few days until I was once again able to put pressure on it.

It wasn’t long before a soft, painful swelling appeared on my wrist. Continuing to ignore the source of my wrist discomfort, the pain began to persist, sometimes lasting months on end. I finally began to adjust my practice (planks, chaturangas on elbows) but pulling back on the vigorous-ness was too late. After a particularly long bout of swelling, I visited the doctor who confirmed that the pliable growth on my wrist was a ganglion cyst, an out-pouching or distention of a weakened portion of a joint capsule or tendon sheath.

Unfortunately, there were no obvious solutions going forward. My doctor tried to drain it with a huge, scary needle, but the cyst fluid was too thick. I tried acupuncture, physiotherapy, ultrasound therapy and osteopathy to no success. One colleague told me to “power through it” while another told me to slam a book down on it to rupture and drain the cyst into the surrounding tissues (both of which I did not do). I even had a consultation with a plastic surgeon who told me he could remove it, but doing so would leave me with a 2-inch scar and the inability to use my left hand for up to six weeks. I passed on this option because the surgeon could still not guarantee that the cyst would not return.

The extensor digitorum is one of four extensors of the wrist and hand.

Discouraged, I decided that the best solution was defeated complacency – to just live with it. Suddenly, it became an area I closed myself off to and just avoided, even when my compensation climbed up to my left shoulder. One day, a few years later, I was lucky enough to have a treatment with a body worker who had experience working with the artists of the Cirque du Soleil. During a full body massage he quickly noticed that my forearm muscles, particularly my extensor digitorum, were as “tight as an old piece of leather and hard as wood.”

The extensor digitorum is one of four extensors of the wrist and hand. It’s located between the extensor carpi radialis longus and brevis and the extensor carpi ulnaris, and has four long, superficial tendons stretching along the dorsal surface of the hand and fingers (Trail Guide, 3rd p. 143). This meaty forearm muscle assists in extending the wrist and extends the 2nd through 5th fingers. Each time we plank, chaturanga, downward dog, arm balance, or even push a door open, we are contracting our forearm extensor muscles.

Thus began numerous sessions of long hours of the body worker applying deep, sustained pressure to my left forearm with his fingers. The cyst slowly shrunk in size until it disappeared all together! Feeling positive about my recovery, I researched additional ways to take care of my wrists and forearms. The Yoga Tune Up® Quick Fix videos and the Roll Model® Therapy Balls were a Godsend and key to my maintaining my forearm health.

Make sure to read the next blog post to find out which exercises have helped me stay cyst-free for five years (and counting)!