This past summer, I noticed thumb pain during my yoga practice and while gardening (my other job). Even with good alignment, poses like up-dog and wheel were starting to get painful. Being a type-A leaning human, my first instinct was to maintain status quo and see if it cleared up on its own. Being a yoga teacher, I knew better than to ignore it. It is one thing to have discomfort in your practice and another thing entirely to have actual pain. Discomfort is a warning to proceed mindfully while pain is a bright red stop sign.
Optimism in hand, I went to see an orthopedic hand specialist. I was sure he would tell me about a minor inflammation that would resolve with rest. Boy was I wrong! At 44, I was diagnosed with arthritis in my thumbs…early onset, no direct cause, perhaps hereditary. Gasp! Those words were swirling in my head when he said: “Your days of doing this (gesturing a plank pose) are over.” The swirling thoughts were drowned out by my stubborn inner child, who immediately threw a psychic temper tantrum. My inner child is a force to be reckoned with. She possesses all the tenaciousness and iron will of a 2 year old and does not like to be told what to do (my boyfriend can attest to this).
I needed a work-around and was sent to an occupational therapist. She molded a plastic hand splint designed to take pressure off the thumb joint during weight bearing activity. While it provided relief, it chafed and cracked in half after 2 weeks. After that, I experimented with a few home-grown solutions – building on what I had learned from the specialists. One attempt involved a non-skid yoga glove stuffed with a yoga block wedge. These approximated the plastic splint, but were clumsy.
After an intensive internet search, I found Wrist Assured™ Gloves from Joint Protection Products. They have two styles. This review is of the WAGS Pro model. While designed to support wrists, these gloves have a thick stable pad that elevates the palm and takes pressure off the metacarpophalangeal joints (where the fingers meet the palm). This elevation is just enough to alleviate the bone-on-bone joint ‘crunching’ characteristic of arthritis. At the same time, they do not hinder my yoga.
There was a short adjustment period for me. I practice Ashtanga yoga, where props are used sparingly. Emotionally, wearing gloves felt a little odd and I was a bit self-conscious. Physically, having the heel of my hand higher that the fingers made it feel like I was projecting forward in arm balances. I adapted by putting more emphasis on pressing fingertips into the earth (as one might do in handstand). This small modification restored that balance.
More importantly, the real balance that I found was in being able to continue practicing regularly and pain-free in a manner aligned with my doctor’s advice.