Wrist pain can sideline even the best intentions when it interferes with your downward dog or biceps curls. Although injuries like sprains or fractures cause pain that should be treated by a doctor right away, some types of wrist pain can be the result of overuse, repetitive-use injuries, or other gradual causes. If wrist pain is getting in the way of your workout, there are some ways you can treat it and prevent it from coming on in the first place. But keep in mind: you should contact your doctor if you have lasting or intense pain.
To find out some ways to treat and prevent wrist pain, we reached out to Amy Schultz, doctor of physical therapy and certified strength and conditioning coach for the Fit Body App, and Joscelyn Shumate Bourne, owner of Power Forward Performance and a board-certified clinical specialist in sports and orthopedics physical therapy.
Adjust Your Mat
Shultz recommends using a thicker yoga mat to help cushion the hand from excessive pressure. Mats can range from very thin to a ¼-inch thickness. Thick yoga mats are suitable for slower, recovery-based work when you hold poses for longer. They can also help with poses where your weight is held over your wrists. Try a ⅛-inch-thick mat for more active types of yoga since it is more stable and provides better grip.
Warm Up Your Wrists
“Instead of jumping straight into your desired lifting motions, perform the same kind of warm-up you might do before a run,” says Shumate Bourne. Taking a few minutes to warm up the often-overlooked wrists can go far toward preventing wrist pain. Try this sequence from Shumate Bourne:
- In a weight-bearing position, rock your body over your wrists in a flexed position, fingers forward.
- Repeat the movement with your fingers pointing backward, rock up onto your fingers.
- Lastly, move to a neutral wrist position on your fists, and rock to a wrist flexed or weight bearing on the back of your hand, and repeat.
Increase Your Range of Motion
Shultz recommends increasing your strength at the end range of motion. Many exercises using your wrists require you to push your range of motion to the end range, where you might not be as solid and stable. To remedy this, work on building strength through the full range of motion using techniques called PAILS and RAILS (Progressive Angular Isometric Loading and Regressive Angular Isomeric Loading).
- Get on all fours on a mat and place your hands flat on the mat.
- Come into as much wrist extension as you can by leaning forward with your fingers flat.
- Slowly start to drive your fingertips and wrists into the mat. Hold here and try to increase the tension, gripping your fingertips and wrists into the floor.
- Hold for 10 seconds, and then try to lift your fingertips off the floor.
- Rock back, working on the wrist extensors before coming forward again and pressing your fingertips and knuckles into the mat.
- Press down for 10 seconds and hold before rocking back again.
- Not able to get into a traditional front rack grip? Switch to either a cross-grip front rack position that maintains a neutral wrist position, or try using a strap-assisted front rack position to place around the bar and grip with your hands.
Strengthen Your Supporting Muscles
Stronger supporting muscles can help relieve the brunt of the work from the wrists. “The stronger you make your shoulders and core, the more weight you can offload with the wrists,” says Shultz. So don’t neglect your upper back, shoulders, and core muscles in your workouts.
Staying strong at the shoulder and having a strong grip are great ways to protect your wrist during exercise. “Think of the shoulder blade or the scapula as the foundation of your house. The more stable your foundation is, the better off your entire house will be as you put up your four walls,” explains Shumate Bourne.
Grip strength is equally vital, says Shumate Bourne: “Keeping with the house theme, consider your grip strength as the roof of your home. Many of the muscles that assist in gripping cross the wrist, creating a ring of stabilization. Having a strong grip further helps to offload the wrist and reduce increased abnormal forces that may be necessary to complete the desired lift and/or wrist position.”
To increase grip strength, work in exercises like deadlifts, barbell rows, hanging leg raises, and pull-ups to your routine.
Adjust Specific Exercises
If certain exercises aggravate your wrists, you can make adjustments to avoid the worst of it. Try these tips from Shultz and Shumate Bourne:
- Use dumbbells or “push-up handles” to hold on to instead of placing hands on the ground.
- Perform plank position exercises on elbows as much as possible.
- Make sure to distribute weight evenly through the hand.
- Try switching up end-range extension during push-ups for a neutral (in between flexion and extension) wrist position on your fists.
Nail Your Technique
Of course, one of the best ways to prevent wrist pain is to address form breakdown and weakness. If your wrists are taking on more than they should during your workouts or yoga flow, you could unintentionally overburden them, leading to overuse and repetitive use injuries.
“Movements like a front squat require a specific technique to recruit the appropriate muscles for strengthening. Losing the proper form can cause increased pressure to be placed on your wrists,” says Shumate Bourne.
Shumate Bourne recommends working with a qualified individual who can coach your form to protect your wrists from improper loading and maintain your lift and muscle recruitment quality.
Wrap Your Wrists
“Wrist wraps help to reduce that end-range loading that you might endure during a front squat or will help to redistribute the load during a heavy deadlift or hip hinge,” says Shumate Bourne. Weightlifting wrist wraps come in various lengths and stiffness levels and are an affordable tool to help with wrist pain.
Another option Shultz recommends is Kinesio tape. This tape comes in different grades meant for varying levels of treatment. For ligament strains that cause mild to moderate pain, you can choose the lowest grade. Kinesio tape provides stability while still being flexible enough for a full range of motion. Before using Kinesio tape, if you have wrist pain, you should see your doctor or physiotherapist. Either practitioner can also help wrap your wrists and show you how to apply the tape yourself for the best results.