From clean-and-presses to nonstop texting, we often overlook the bad habits that may be hindering our wrists. There are a number of reasons you may be experiencing wrist injuries or pain. These occurrences can affect any aspect of the joints, including bones, ligaments, and connective tissue in the area surrounding the wrist.
“Increasing blood circulation to the wrist joint is important to promote healing,” says Michelle DuVall, creator of Barre Variations. “The radiocarpal joint or wrist joint is an ellipsoid joint, which means the wrist allows movement in two planes. It can flex, extend, adduct, abduct, and circumduct. Moving in all these directions will keep the wrist joint flexible and will help promote mobility and can ease pain or strain.”
The wrists are well-used so pain can come and go, depending on your workouts or your daily work. Some pain is standard and needs little if any, attention. But, depending on the type and severity, your wrist pain may be a sign of something more serious. So, to help clear the air, here are five common wrist injuries, their symptoms, and how to treat them.
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
This is the most common condition of the wrist area. Carpal tunnel occurs when there is inflammation of the tunnel that some of the hand’s nerves run through from the brachial plexus. This can cause tingling and pain along the thumb and that side of the palm. “For alleviation of pain, rest is key. Often, repetitive movements can exacerbate the symptoms. Wearing a wrist brace at night to keep the wrist in a straight, neutral position can help symptoms,” says Jessica DeLuise, M.H.S., P.A.-C., a physician’s assistant. Here are a few simple exercises that can aid in pain relief.
- Flexion and extension: movement that increases and decreases an angle from two body parts.
- Wrist circumduction: circular motion of the wrist—keep your hand in a fist when performing this action.
- Ulnar and radial deviation: bend the wrist and fingers toward the bone side, away from the thumb, while keeping fingers closely knit.
Another surprising remedy may be a proper diet. DeLuise suggests maintaining an anti-inflammatory diet rich in vegetables, good fats, lean proteins, and berries, which can help with symptoms. In addition, massages from a trained professional, acupuncture, and prescription ointments can offer relief.
Arthritis is a chronic inflammatory disorder that can affect many joints, including your hands and feet. “Rheumatoid arthritis is the condition where the body’s immune system attacks its own tissues, causing the joint to deteriorate and cease mobility,” explains Eraldo Maglara, N.S.C.A.-P.T. Heightened pain can occur when the inflammation increases, usually due to disease, poor diet, or environmental factors such as chemicals. More damage means more pain.
Keeping these factors in mind can make it easier to live with this condition. “Hand therapy can assist with pain modulation and increased motion of the fingers to allow the ability to perform daily activities,” says Sheena Pasricha, O.T., C.H.T. “However, if the joint is contracted, opt for splinting and modification exercises to maximize the functional use of your hands.”
Other ways to combat this problem include:
- Maintaining a healthy weight to alleviate pressure and wear and tear on the joints.
- Opting for low-impact exercise such as swimming or biking to help strengthen the joints without pain.
- Paying attention to diet, focusing on anti-inflammatory options such as healthy fats, lean proteins, whole grains, vegetables, berries, and antioxidants.
- “Cherry juice—eight ounces twice daily—has been shown to help joint pain. It works in a similar mechanism to the prescription Celebrex,” DeLuise suggests.
Sprains can stem from overuse, injury, or trauma, and the intensity can vary from moderate to extreme. “Swelling of the location, combined with painful movement, can limit your functionality. Once the swelling subsides, stretching and strengthening exercises are key to improving your mobility,” Maglara says.
Hand therapy is another option to promote healing and strengthening and to prevent future injuries. If you’re doing mild exercises on your own, start out slowly because the last thing you want to do is create further injury. “An easy way to ensure you achieve the full range of motion of the wrist is to clasp your hands together in front of your chest, then move your hands forward and back, side to side, away from the chest, and finally in a full circle in both directions. Repeat each motion 10 to 20 times,” DuVall says.
Here are a few more wrist sprain exercises you can do on your own.
Gently press the back of the injured hand with your other hand to help bend your wrist. Avoid jerking or gripping too forcefully. Hold for 15 to 30 seconds. Next, stretch the hand back by pressing the fingers in a backward direction. Hold for 15 to 30 seconds. Make sure to keep your arm on the injured side straight during this exercise. Perform up to three sets.
Hold a can, a light weight, or a hammer handle in your hand with your palm facing up. Slowly bend your wrist upward. With control, gently lower the weight and return to the starting position. Do two sets of 15 repetitions. Gradually increase the weight you are holding.
Another option is to squeeze a soft rubber ball or a stress ball. Hold the squeeze for five seconds, then release. Perform two sets of 15 repetitions.
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Gout is a disease caused by a buildup of uric acid, which then presents itself as severe swelling, pain, and redness. Although it doesn’t happen often in the wrists, it can occur—usually because it has started somewhere else in the body and makes its way to the wrist area.
One of the best ways to fight gout is to avoid foods high in uric acid, such as shellfish, and alcohol. “Once the symptoms subside, stretching exercises of the fingers and wrist, combined with bands and light dumbbells, can strengthen the area to better handle the symptoms,” Maglara says.
Manual therapy that includes massaging and stretching can help with inflammation and stiffness caused by gout. DeLouise suggests adequate hydration to flush out excess uric acid. Stick to an anti-inflammatory diet, and try cherry juice, collagen supplements, and spices such as turmeric and ginger.
Tendons are structures that connect a muscle to a bone. When these structures suffer any type of injury, they become inflamed, causing tendonitis. This often occurs around the wrists, shoulders, elbows, knees, and heels. The most common forms of tendonitis are:
- Tendinitis of the wrist
- Tennis elbow
- Golfer’s elbow
- Swimmer’s shoulder
- Achilles tendinitis
Treatments for all these conditions vary, but the most common elements are rest, pain relievers, and physical therapy if needed. When it comes to the wrist, stick to hot-and-cold therapy in the form of a compress, pain relievers, physical therapy, and, in more serious cases, steroid injections.
Now that you know the most common wrist misalignments, you will be able to approach your health practitioner with a knowledgeable game plan to resolve the problem.