If you’ve ever felt wrist pain when doing exercises such as pushups, planks and other hands-on-the-floor moves, you likely either pushed through the discomfort or stopped doing the move altogether.
There is, however, a third option: addressing the root issue. That way, you can reap the benefits of those exercises without your wrist hurting.
Here, physical therapists and rehabilitation experts share the most common causes of wrist pain during exercise, modifications to relieve pain and training tips to keep your wrists healthy over the long term.
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Why Do My Wrists Hurt During Pushups?
Exercise-induced wrist pain comes down to two possible issues: functional and structural ones, says Nick Occhipinti, a sports chiropractor and strength coach at Velocity Chiropractic and Sports Rehab in Monmouth County, New Jersey.
For example, it’s possible that you have tight or weak muscles in and around your wrist. Many peoples’ wrist flexors (the muscles that move your palms toward the inside of your forearms) are tight, which can make it difficult to get in a hands-flat-on-the-floor position. If, during exercises like planks and bird-dogs, you feel a “widespread, pulling discomfort near the wrist on the palm side or on the front of the forearm, muscle tightness is likely the case,” Occhipinti says.
A lack of strength in the wrist extensors (the muscles that move the back of your hands toward the back of your forearms) can also commonly contribute to discomfort, he says. In a pushup position, for example, these muscles help your wrist joints support a large percentage of your body weight. If they’re lacking some strength, your wrist can experience excess stress.
“Structural causes usually cause different kinds of pain and discomfort in very specific locations,” Occhipinti says. “A pinpoint pinching feeling, most commonly on the backside of the wrist, could indicate a ganglion cyst, a fluid-filled ball that forms in some people on the tendons or joints of the wrist.”
For example, in one 2017 study published in the Journal of Wrist Surgery, 84% of exercisers who felt pain along the backside of their wrists during such exercises also had structural wrist issues. About three-fourths of these people had a small ganglion cyst. Most of the remaining people experiencing pain had a partial ligament tear.
However, it’s important to note that the study only identified an associative relationship, meaning it’s not clear if exercise is a cause or rather just a symptom of cysts.
“The formation of ganglion cysts on the wrist and hand is a debated topic,” says Sam Becourtney, a physical therapist and certified strength and conditioning specialist with Bespoke Treatments in New York City. “Some researchers believe that repetitive micro-trauma or repetitive motions may cause the development of these cysts in the hands. That said, there are more people in the world who do pushups without ever developing a cyst than there are those who do develop cysts. While exercise alone is unlikely to cause a ganglion cyst, it can certainly cause discomfort if you already have one.”
Exercise is also prone to cause wrist pain with any other structural issues such as arthritis, carpal tunnel syndrome or history of wrist sprains, Becourtney says.
If you’re concerned or suspect structural issues, reach out to your health care provider for imaging and to learn about treatment options.
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5 Ways to Ease Wrist Pain During Exercise
Try these expert tips for both short-term relief during exercise and to address any functional mobility and strength deficits.
1. Adjust your elbows.
“When our wrists are in an extended position for a prolonged period (like on the floor or other flat surface), we tend to hyperextend the elbow,” Becourtney says. “This ends up putting more pressure on the wrists, specifically the eight small carpal bones. These bones are not designed to bear the weight of our full body, and by hyperextending the elbow and underutilizing the shoulder protractors, we tend to just let our weight ‘rest’ in the wrist joint.”
So, the next time you’re in a pushup position, try locking and unlocking your elbows. During straight-arm exercises, the goal is to have your elbow extended but not fully locked out. In the correct position, the fold of your elbows should face each other.
2. Raise your hands.
Propping up your hands can take multiple forms, but they all work to lessen how far you need to extend your wrists during exercise and the amount of stress you place on the joints.
When working out at home, try placing a small, folded hand towel or other piece of fabric under your hands at the base of your palms (aka the heels of your hands). You can also use a couch cushion or AIREX pad, according to Occhipinti.
Or, if you have access to a barbell and squat rack, and want to work on pushup or plank exercises, secure the barbell low in the rack, place your hands on the bar and do your exercises from there. “Being that your hand is not flat on the floor, you can focus on keeping your wrist in a neutral (rather than extended) position,” he says.
Find out if you have tight wrist flexors with the forearm wall stretch. Place one palm flat on a wall at shoulder height with your fingertips aiming down toward the floor. If you feel a stretch in this position, you could likely benefit from stretching both before exercise and on a daily basis.
Your goal: Hold this stretch comfortably for one to two minutes per side, Occhipinti says. (Never push to pain.) As your flexibility improves, try doing the stretch with your hands a few inches higher on the wall.
While you stretch one side of your wrist, you need to strengthen the other.
To do so, Occhipinti recommends exercises like wrist extension curls (hold light weights and draw the backs of your hands to the backs of your forearms).
You can also try resisted finger expansions, starting in a fist and extending your fingers as far as comfortable. For resistance, try a rubber band, stretchy hair band or searching online for finger extension bands. The latter are the most user-friendly option and won’t slip or fling off your fingers mid-rep.
5. Grab dumbbells.
Perform troublesome movements with your hands gripping the handles of two vertically positioned dumbbells, Becourtney recommends. Other options include parallel bars and pushup handles.
Whichever tool you choose, it will let you keep your wrist in a neutral position to reduce pressure on the joint.
For example, when setting up for a plank, set two dumbbells or bars on the floor, spread shoulder-width apart with the grips running the same direction as your body. With straight arms, grab both handles and then step your feet back. Ensure the equipment is either heavy enough or creates enough friction against the floor so that it won’t move mid-exercise.
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How to Ease Wrist Pain During Pushups and Other Floor Exercises originally appeared on usnews.com
Update 01/10/22: This story was previously published at an earlier date and has been updated with new information.