Training

Why Are My Arms Numb After Headstands?

February 2nd 2020

If you’re trying to be aware of your bodily symptoms during and after your workouts — and you should be! — then perhaps you’ve noticed that sometimes after you get down from a headstand, you arms are tingly or numb. 

This can be quite alarming! 

Don’t worry too much. 

This phenomenon can be explained by delving into your body’s natural response to inversions and your recurring workout routine. 

Let’s talk about what happens to your body when you turn it upside down—and when you turn yourself right-side up again. 

Why Are My Arms Numb After Handstands?

Listed below are some reason why you may be feeling some numbness in your arms after doing handstands:

 

  • You are fatigued and need some rest
  • Nerve Compression
  • Improper technique
  • Lack of strength to support your body weight

 

Why do my arms feel numb?

Arm numbness can come from a range of activities, including simply being in the same position for too long, but if it’s occurring routinely after you get down from a headstand it is likely due to compression of the ulnar nerve. 

Ulnar nerve compression is common among yogis and other exercise specialists who spend a lot of time putting pressure on their wrists. 

It can be a direct result of practicing with bad pressure. Compression specifically at the wrists is referred to as Guyon's Canal Syndrome

Fortunately, this is a reversible condition. 

However, it’s good that you noticed it, as you don’t want to ignore it; you’ll want to start taking care as you exercise so you don’t lose the ability to do those headstands anytime soon. 

What happens when you turn yourself upside down

There are plenty of benefits — and dangers — to being upside down. 

On one hand, we have inversion therapy and the inverted practices that we add to our exercise routines, such as headstands. 

We do this because we’re promised a myriad of benefits, including: 

 

  1. Stress Relief
  2. Increase in Focus
  3. Improve Blood Flow to Eyes
  4. Increase Blood Flow to Head and Scalp
  5. Strengthens Shoulders and Arms 
  6. Improves Digestion
  7. Flushing Out the Adrenal Glands
  8. Decreases Built-Up Fluid in the Legs, Ankles, Feet
  9. Develops The Core
  10. Stimulates Lymphatic System

 

However, there are also plenty of dangers. 

Aside from the obvious concern that you lose your balance and damage something (or yourself), One of the more serious adverse effects is potentially developing ulnar neuropathy — what happens if you’re compressing your ulnar nerve and you don’t do anything to change. 

Other dangers, according to Juliana Spicoluk, a yoga instructor, include damaging the vertebrae in your neck: “The seventh vertebrae (in the neck) is the smallest in the body and it’s only meant to hold the weight of the head, not the entire body,” says Spicoluk. 

“You have to be really careful with the way you distribute weight in the body.” You also want to avoid herniating any discs in your spine! 

Is it normal? 

It’s completely normal — among those who haven’t optimized their headstands properly. 

However, you don’t necessarily want it to be your normal, so, if this is happening to you often, you should probably look into switching up your exercise routine. 

Let’s discuss a few ways you can easily make that happen. 

How to stop it from happening again:

Your arms tingling and turning numb was essentially a warning sign — your body telling you that if you continue to work out improperly, your body was going to sustain irreversible damage. 

Stopping the warning signs is simple: take time to look at each part of your workout to optimize your preparation, your strength, and your coordination so you’re giving your body what it needs to do the workout well. 

The Importance of Warmups

Warmups aren’t the most exciting part of a workout routine, but they’re extremely important to help you avoid injury. 

Here’s a quick rundown of the other benefits to warming your muscles up prior to any strenuous workout: 

 

  1. Warming your muscles prior to working them helps your body deliver oxygen to those muscles, making the workout easier and more effective.
  2. Warming up prior to a workout physically increases your body temperature, which makes it less likely that you will injure your muscles and tendons. 
  3. Increasing blood flow to your muscles (by warming up) makes it easier for your body to deliver fuel to your exercising areas. 
  4. If you warm up, you increase how supple your muscle is — which primes that muscle to be more efficient and powerful during your workout. 
  5. Consider the warm-up as a less strenuous way to ramp up towards a more intense circuit: it helps your body prepare to push to its limits in a subtle way, rather than in a way that might put undue stress on your system. 

Resting Well

Taking time to rest after a workout is just as important as warming up! 

Especially if you are experiencing adverse effects due to working out improperly, you need to give your wrists and nervous system a chance to bounce back. 

If you think that you are experiencing ulnar nerve compression, you should take some time off headstands entirely to avoid injuring your wrists further. 

When you return to your inversion practice, make sure that you stretch after your headstands and cool down your muscles properly to ensure that you don’t start feeling that numbness in your arms again. 

Improve Your Handstand Strength

Getting better at handstands will increase your ability to do them without hurting yourself. 

Fortunately, there are gradated inversion exercises that you can do to help ramp up your handstand technique without hurting your wrists! 

Here are a few you can try: 

 

  1. Pike Rolls with a Swiss Ball: Start by grabbing a balance ball. Perform a plank, with your shins on the surface of the ball. Then, roll forward so you’re on top of your shoulders. When you’re ready, roll back down, slowly, with as much control as you can muster.
  2. Handstand Wall Walks: Start by doing a plank right next to a wall. Then, start to walk backward, feet going up the wall, so that your stomach becomes parallel with the wall. Clench your core! When that gets easier, practice reaching up with one hand at a time.
  3. Handstand Shoulder Touches: Walk up the wall, as outlined in the previous exercise. Then, focusing on core strength, reach up and touch each of your shoulders. 
  4. Chest Against the Wall Hold/Split: Walk up the wall as outlined above. Remove one foot from the wall and point it upward. Remove the other foot from the wall and hold as long as you can! Fall back to the wall if you feel yourself tottering.

 

You should note that it’s a good idea to practice falling well!

 Remember to have mats and pillows around to catch you, and always try to cartwheel out of a fall instead of crashing hard to the floor. 

Let’s Talk about Coordination

Increasing your sense of proprioception — your innate sense of where your body is relative to everything else around you — can really help with your coordination and balance. 

Here are a few ways you can work on improving this invaluable skill: 

 

  1. Close Your Eyes. If it’s safe, close your eyes while you do an exercise or two, and pay special attention to the way your body feels while you complete your reps. 
  2. Focus on Balance Exercises. Balance exercises can help you figure out how to evenly distribute your weight without thinking about it — which will go a long way toward helping you do headstands safely! Beginning exercises could be as simple as seeing how long you can balance on one foot; aim for twenty to thirty seconds, to start.
  3. Incorporate strength training and plyometric training into your workout routine. If you’re aiming for the perfect handstand, your arms and your core — your whole body, really — needs to be strong in order to make that happen. Lift those weights! Plyometric exercises, particularly those that require quick thinking and footwork, will also go a long way towards helping you be aware of your body. 

 

In other words, keep your workouts focused and varied. It’ll be more fun, it’ll help you keep your body safe, and will ultimately get you to your goals faster. 

If your arms have started to tingle or numb, don’t panic — but do take it as a sign that you should prioritize flexibility and coordination (as well as self-care) in your workout routine. 

Ulnar nerve compression is reversible as long as you take care of yourself! Always remember to warm up and cool down from your workouts, and listen to your body as you go through the day.

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