Maybe you’re recovering from a sprain or a strain. Or maybe you have to stop and shake your wrists out whenever you do push-ups. Or maybe your wrists are screaming from the hours you spend at your computer.
Whatever the cause, wrist pain can be a serious problem.
First of all, because you need your wrists for many normal, necessary daily activities. And second, it’s hard to keep your upper body strong without pushing movements that load your arms and shoulders through your wrists – the very movements that can be excruciating with wrist pain!
Many people with wrist trouble think they only have two options: wait it out or see a professional (and you should see a professional if your problem doesn’t improve).
In this article, I’ll show you a third option: how to actively fix your wrists using a series of exercises that only take a few minutes every day.
Added bonus: this routine is professional-approved, and not just by me. I’ve successfully used these exercises with my physical therapy patients for years, but one client of ours, a sports orthopedic surgeon, also gave this routine his stamp of approval:
Let’s get into it!
A Very Brief Overview of How the Wrist Works
Here’s a little refresher on wrist anatomy to help you understand what’s going wrong and how to fix it.
There are ten bones connected to the wrist joint. You’ve got the two coming in from your forearm (the radius on the thumb side and the ulna on the pinky side), and then eight coming in from the hand, which are called carpals.
The bones and ligaments are supportive structures of course. But just as in anything, if they are not acclimated to the forces of vigorous, repetitive training, they will lack the resilience to withstand injury. As such, ligament sprain and bone stress fractures are common problems.
Improving the capacity of our wrist bones and ligaments takes consistent, progressive, and patient work. And if you want to reduce your risk of injuries, the patience part is key.
The muscles of our forearms and wrists create the movements of flexion, extension, and radial/ulnar deviation. Hand rotations (supination and pronation) actually come from the elbow joints. So wrist “circle” exercises are a combination of elbow and wrist movements.
Our forearm and hand muscles actually have a great potential for strength improvement, as again most of us tend not to use them to their full capability.
Steady incremental strength training for the wrists can lead to significant results.
How Your Wrists are Holding You Back
There are quite a few wrist conditions (strains, sprains, tendonitis, bursitis, TFCC tears, stress fractures) that can be improved with proper wrist conditioning.
The beginning of wrist conditioning work is ensuring you have the adequate wrist flexibility to perform your training safely. You want to be able to flex and extend your wrists to at least 90 degree angles without a lot of force for most training that loads your wrists.
If your wrists can’t flex and extend properly, loading them with your bodyweight (or more) through training is like finding a stuck hinge and, instead of loosening it properly, just pushing harder and harder until something gives.
There is also quite a bit of wrist strength-endurance needed to perform bodyweight exercise, especially in exercises involving some level of hand balancing. While the common recommendation for building wrist conditioning is to spend as much time on your hands as possible, you have to work up to it, especially if your wrists already hurt.
Use These Simple Exercises to Fix Your Wrist Pain
If your wrists are hurting you, you’re probably painfully aware of how much you depend on them. Sore wrists can make fun hand balancing moves look completely unreachable. Even a simple Push-Up might seem out reach. That’s why we’ve put together the following exercises.
We’ll start with two wrist flexibility exercises, one for flexion and one for extension. Then we’ll go through some additional exercises for strength and conditioning in the wrists.
You’ll find all three videos in the following playlist, with a simple chart you can reference following the videos.
|Wrist Strengthening Exercises|
|1. Fingers facing toward your knees, with palms facing down||Do 3 sets of 10 pulses followed by a 30-second hold|
|2. Fingers facing toward your knees, with palms facing up||Do 3 sets of 10 pulses followed by a 30-second hold|
|3. Fingers facing forward, palms down, then perform closed chain finger extension. Then you'll emphasize particular fingers and your thumbs.||Do 3 sets of 10-12 reps.|
|4. Back of the hand wrist extension (fingers facing each other in the middle).||Do 3 sets of 10-12 reps.|
|5. Fingers facing backward on palm finger extension.||Do 3 sets of 10-12 reps.|
|6. The same 3 positions as above, but in the top of a pushup position.||Do 3 sets of 10-12 reps.|
Get these exercises on a handy cheatsheet:
“What if these exercises are too uncomfortable for me?”
If your wrists are so restricted that you can’t perform the exercises as shown in the videos, don’t worry about it. You just have to adjust to your own level.
A good option is to do the exercises on a table or other elevated surface to take some of the pressure off.
And if even that is too uncomfortable, feel free to do them on a wall.
The important thing is to move within the range you can, and not to move into pain. Stop just short of where you feel pain and spend time working on the range you’ve got.
Over time, that range will increase and you’ll be doing more and feeling better.
Get Past Restrictions and Get Back to Doing the Things You Love
Feeling restricted from activities you want to do is a terrible feeling. You want to feel in control of your body, and to be confident that it can handle whatever you need it to do for you.
When your body is unencumbered by restrictions, you can feel truly free to pursue any activities you want.
Maybe you’ve wanted to take up climbing, or you’ve been hesitant to try something like grappling because you know it will put strain on your wrists. Once you free up that restriction with diligent practice, you’ll be free to take up any sport or activity. And that freedom is a beautiful thing.
Enter your email below to get a free wrist stretches cheatsheet, so you can take these stretches with you on the go: