Painful, tight wrist? Let's fix that

Whether you’re a competitive lifter, desk worker or simply doing anything that has to do with your hands, having good wrist mobility is a must. If you’ve ever had pain in your wrist during a bench press, typing on your computer or simply doing any task, you are not alone. In fact, I’d wager that almost every CrossFitter and office worker has experienced some sort of wrist pain at some point in their life. If you were to go amazon and search for wrist wraps or braces, you would come up with a million choices at a million different prices. While these may be helpful, especially in the athletic population, they are not always needed. With proper mobility work and strength, the wrist can be naturally protected. When our wrist don’t have the natural range of motion or strength needed, a lot of stress is placed on small joints throughout the wrist. And with a lack of motion and strength our body will rob Peter to pay Paul every time. This means trying to get more out of the elbow and shoulder than is there. 

The wrist sounds pretty important now doesn’t it? Let’s negate this crucial joint no longer and focus on how we can keep our wrists healthy so as not to affect our performance at the box—not to mention our quality of life outside it.

The Wrist Joint

The wrists are a complex joint full of bone, ligaments, connective tissue, muscles and nerves. It also has multiple ranges of movement—flexion and extension (moving the palm backward or forward relative to the forearm), adduction and abduction (moving the hand from side to side) along with supination and pronation. When you compare this to other joints in the body where you have very simple ranges of motion like the knee or elbow, it’s no wonder why you can experience some many problems in the wrist. In addition, many tendons cross the wrist joint, that affect things like grip strength. 

As I’ve noted earlier, our body will rob Peter to pay Paul every time to  accomplish what it needs. Meaning if we lack motion or control at the wrist, we’ll try to make up for it at the shoulder and elbow. Conversely, if we lack shoulder mobility, we’ll try to make it up at the elbow and wrists. Our bodies work on a joint by joint system. One joint influences how the next joint in the kinetic chain functions. As an example, when squating, if we can’t get proper flexion out of our ankles, our body will search for it in our knees and hips, leading to potential injury. When speaking to you lifters, With regards to our wrist if we can’t fully extend it when front squatting, we will try to get it from our shoulder and elbows. Ideally, we should have enough mobility to keep a closed grip on the bar with the elbows high and the bar resting on the shoulders. However, when attempting a heavy clean (and jerk) this is pretty hard to do. If the wrists are stiff or weak, this will place additional stress on the structures of the joint and down the front of your forearm. As such, we need to address these two elements (wrist mobility and strength) through proper exercises and stretching.

Wrist mobility/strength exercises

It should be noted that a major factor in keeping the wrists healthy and executing a lift properly is utilizing proper technique in all things, even the mundane (ie sitting at the keyboard typing this). This includes employing the right grip, aligning the body correctly and having a good bar path along with working within our own capacity. Staying on top of your lifting form can go a long way in alleviating some of the work placed on the wrists and other joints. Of course, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t spend a good amount of time working on the mobility of your wrists every day. Our wrist accomplish a lot day in and day, and it’s really no wonder that people can develop arthritis and carpal tunnel syndrome  if they don’t take care of them. Here are a few exercises/stretches to get you started:

1. Wrist Rotations. This is very basic. Wrap your fingers together and move your wrists around in every possible direction. Hold any position that feels a little tender/limited for a few seconds. Repeat often throughout the day.

2. Prayers. Stand up and place your hands together in front of you, as if in prayer. Maintaining contact between your hands, lower them. Go as far as you can without pain. The longer you can keep your hands together, the better you’ll stretch the wrists. At the bottom, reverse things so that your fingers point downward and your hands remain together. Come back up.

3. Static Holds. Pull your wrist back into extension and/or flexion and hold for at least 20-30 seconds.

4. Planche push–up position. Get into a plank position (elbows fully extended at the top of the push up). Turn your hands inward so your fingertips are pointing toward your toes. Keeping a rigid torso, shift your body forward so you have an angle from your shoulders to wrists. Hold this position for 20-30 seconds (or as long as you can bear) and repeat. If this is too intense, drop down to your knees and complete.

5. Wrist walks. Place your palms on a wall, with your arms straight and fingers pointing to the ceiling. Keeping contact with the wall, walk your hands down the wall. Go as far down as possible without letting your palms come off the wall. Once you reach the point where you can’t walk your hands down any farther, turn your hands around so your fingers are now pointing to the floor. Walk your wrists back up the wall as far upward as possible. Repeat.

If you want to see a video of these exercises, check out this playlist here!  

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These are just a few exercises to get you started, but I hope you now understand how vital the wrists are to lifting and life and how underappreciated they are. It doesn’t take much effort to work on them—you could do them at work if needs be. Which reminds me, make sure that if you do work on the computer a lot that your wrists are in a neutral position when typing. Just another helpful adjustment that can do wonders for the health of the joint. So, no more ignoring the wrists! They should now be the first thing you target for every mobility session.

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