Wrist pain can be a killer. It can keep you up at night, stop you from doing even simple things, and may even be the end of a career. I have known people who literally had to change careers because of severe carpal tunnel syndrome. Even with mild wrist pain, your ability to do many things suffers, including many exercises that could keep you fit and moving well.
If you have ever experienced wrist pain, you know what I am talking about. And yet, often we don’t think to look after our wrists. Even with an exercise program in place, wrists are often an after-thought. But, think about it: can you successfully lift a weight, hang on tightly to a bar or machine handle, or even do push-ups with wrists that are hurting?
There are three main culprits here.
- There’s overuse, which can end up with carpal tunnel syndrome.
- There’s osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Note: Rheumatoid arthritis will not be covered here since it has an autoimmune origin, and so the prevention and treatment is often not related to exercise.
- And there’s injury from a one-time event or several events of straining the tissues.
If you have osteoarthritis, it is often a good thing to keep the joint moving, but gently, and strengthen as best you can with a limited amount of weight. If you have carpal tunnel syndrome, you need to see a physician or physical therapist for an evaluation and specific stretches and exercises.
Wrist Pain Prevention
For today I want to give you a few ways to help prevent wrist pain by learning to keep them straight (aka, neutral), and then to strengthen them in that position. This is a good way to strengthen without putting your wrists in a compromised position. Strengthening the wrist and supporting muscles in your forearm goes a long way to help stabilize the wrist and to keep it pain free. Going forward, it is a good idea to remind yourself to use this strong position when you are lifting weights in the gym, being active, or doing chores around the house. Doing these exercises and paying attention to what your wrists are doing will help to reinforce that positioning.
- Learn to keep your wrists in a neutral position as you work. Adjust your keyboard so that your wrists are not constantly bent as you work. If your work requires awkward wrist positions, do your best to adjust, take frequent breaks to relieve the pressure on that area, and counteract that position with stretches.
- When you exercise, keep your wrists neutral, not curled or bent. Time and again, I have seen people curl their wrists at the top or bottom of an exercise like the bicep curl. This gives you a false sense of going further with the motion. In actual fact, it is limiting what your biceps are doing by adding in some action from your forearm. On top of that, you may be adding unnecessary strain to your wrists by doing this.
- Strengthen your wrists by keeping them neutral in an exercise called a “reverse curl” (see graphic below). With palms facing down, hold a dumbbell in one or both hands. Start at your waist, and then lift the weight to your shoulder, without curling your wrists. Do 1-2 sets of 10 repetitions.
Pay attention to what your wrists are doing when you do other, seemingly unrelated exercises. Here’s a few examples that are exercises to help improve posture, but that can be used to cue you to create a great neutral wrist position. Take this in, and use it to reinforce keeping your wrists neutral in other situations.
- Shoulder rolls. Stand tall, feet shoulder width apart. Tighten up your core to reinforce the tall standing. Roll your shoulders back and down, while bringing your shoulder blades towards each other. As you do so, slowly twist the wrists until your thumbs are pointing away from the body, and your arms are straight. Do not bend your elbows to get this motion, but keep the arms straight so that you also end up opening the front of your shoulders, which is tight in many people (see graphics below). Hold for a few seconds, release, and repeat 10 times. You can add some weight to this exercise for an extra boost to your wrists. As a bonus, I find that adding weight also helps to keep your shoulders from creeping up, which helps with the “back and down” motion of your shoulder blades. Use the same basic neutral wrist while holding the weight. You will end up with your palms facing forward.
- Hip hinge with fly. Stand, with feet about shoulder width apart. Bend slightly forward from your hips, sending your butt back, and keeping your back flat (see graphics below). Start with your arms folded in front of you, at chest level. Slowly bring your arms out to your sides of your body about shoulder height. As you do this, take your thumbs and point them up. At the same time, bring your shoulder blades toward each other. Notice that, with the thumbs up, it creates a nice straight line for your arms and wrists. This is a great exercise for reinforcing good posture, and for keeping that strong straight line for your arms and wrists.
While these last two may seem a bit off the wall, the point is this: The more often you can imprint good positioning and alignment, the better chance you have of keeping your wrists healthy and pain free.
SHOULDER ROLL with weight
SHOULDER ROLL without weight
HIP HINGE with fly start position
HIP HINGE with fly end position
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