How to Keep Working Out While Recovering from a Wrist Injury

Posted in Injury Recovery , Wrist   |   By

Erin Barsness

November 20, 2019

Being an athlete, whether you're a professional or just dedicated on your own time, is all about the training. For some people, it's fun to train every day. Perhaps you pace yourself when you have long conversations, see the grocery store as an obstacle race, or parking lots as a chance to fit fast-paced walking. You may even be able to do low key and isometric exercise while apparently holding still. Once you're hooked, there's nothing like the enjoyable burn of muscles getting stronger all the time.

However, on the other side of that joy in exercising is the frustration of injury and recovery.  It's a simple fact of statistics that no athlete 'gets away' completely unscathed. Even if you never break a bone or experience an injuring accident. Your ankle will twist, you will over-extend a cold muscle, or give yourself a temporary repetitive motion injury from practicing too much for too long. This is the natural consequence of pushing yourself a little too hard, something athletes are very likely to do. While most athletes have no problem accepting the sports injury statistics in principle, it's a lot harder to do when you're stuck at home with a bandaged wrist unable to sweat, build muscle, and or hone a skill you normally do.

Wrist Injury Recovery

Wrist Injuries Get In the Way

Among both the most common and the most irritating type of sports injury is the wrist sprain. Wrists are a very important part of our design because they hold the channels of nerves and muscles that lead to and control our hands. However, something that most people don't realize directly is that the wrist is also potentially, the weakest link in your workout chain. It's not uncommon, especially for women and men with narrow wrists, to discover that your muscles can handle a lot more than those strange and slender joints. Those who curl weights eventually find the limits of their wrists and elbows. Those who play racquet and bat sports, like tennis or baseball, may find that practicing over and over is great for the muscles, however your wrist is the first part to start hurting.

Spraining, straining, or repetitively damaging your wrists are all surprisingly easy to do. Unfortunately, if the way you love to exercise and train most is what caused the injury, this means you will have to cool it on the weights, tennis, or other activities that require one or both hands. While this is frustrating enough in its own right, you will then find yourself contending with all the other aspects of life you usually need two hands for and the situation is additionally aggravated if it was your dominant hand that is now out of commission. In other words, wrist injuries are a pain.

How to Work Out Anyway

So while you're sitting at home not twiddling your thumbs (because that would hurt right now) it may be the perfect opportunity to catch up on your reading and television shows... but then what? Clean the house one handed? Most likely done already along with organizing your sock-drawer, sorting your emails, and wiping down every surface in the house. Let's face it, after the first bubble bath or two, recovery can get pretty boring. Especially if you're the kind of person who would much rather be working out than waiting around for a minor injury to recover. However, while most advice sources say 'get plenty of rest' and this is a good tactic, if you're just not going to rest then we're here to help you stay in good shape even with a 'broken wing'.

The key is to find things to do that don't require the use of your hand that is not currently available for heavy lifting, gripping or vigorous movement. Just remember that the rest of your body is not in recovery and is perfectly capable of meeting all or most of your usual standards. Ready for your recovery workout? Let's begin.

Step 1: Protect the Wrist

Before you do anything involving the arm or hand attached to the injured wrist, it's time to look into both bracing and protection. Many people simply wrap an elastic bandage around the injury for the pain management and swelling reduction. This is a decent place to start and easy to improvise at home, but what your wrist really needs is to be protected from getting injured again. Injuring an already recovering body part is a quick recipe for more severe injury and a much longer recovery.

If you want your recovery time to go by in a flash, you will want to make use of a comfortable and sturdy wrist brace. Look for one that opens so you can set your damaged wrist gently inside of it then straps closed with adjustable straps so you can decide exactly how much compression or freedom your wrist needs. Finally, make sure it has rigid sides. In this case, the brace is as much to prevent impacts and over-extension of the wrist as to prevent it from moving around.

Step 2: No-Hands and Low-Impact Exercises

One of the things it will help to understand is that the rest of your body is fully capable even though your wrist is out for repairs. This means there's no need to let your legs, core, or even arms lose muscle mass and tone during this recovery break. It's still more than possible to find dozens of exercises out there that don't require the use of your wrist as all, not even bracing your head for crunches.

Kicks and calf-lifts, for example, require absolutely no hand-work except to hover lightly in the air to keep your balance. You can do body twists and stretch out every available musle from your neck to your toes. You can also deal with the entire business lying on the ground doing kicks and crunches. These are a great opportunity to get both arms involved without the hands to keep you toned and in good shape without putting your wrist at risk.

The more you can do with your legs and core, the better. This will keep you in shape and your blood pumping to and from that healing wrist while getting you back to the level of activity you've come to enjoy. If you usually go to the gym, you don't even have to give up your favorite place to socialize and work up a sweat. Simply pick a machine like the ellypticals or treadmill where the capabilities of your wrist won't matter. If you're not sure what to do or if you've already done your round of furious pedaling, consider asking one of the friendly employees in your local gym to help you choose a few activities that can be intense without further damaging your wrist.

Step 3: Strap-On Weights

Of course, for some people the balance of muscle work is almost more important than staying active during the recovery period. If the last thing you want is for your non-dominant arm to get a few weeks ahead in strength and endurance training, you actually do have one interesting potential alternative. If you like to work with weights and other exercises that are literally heavy on both arms, the trouble is that your favorite activities and focus on arm training traditionally require the wrist to support any weight held by the hands. But what if you could work out even your arms without the need to hold onto heavy equipment. 

The trick is strap-on weights. The way this works is with bands of cloth not unlike a soft brace that wrap around and strap onto your arms, legs, and possibly torso as well. For those who are not using them as a recovery workout work-round, they are for increasing the effect of more natural exercise techniques like tai-chi and the more active martial arts. Because your limbs are heavier, your body must work harder to move them and some even use this as a weight loss technique because it can 'trick' the body into thinking you are heavier than you are and switch to fat burning instead of storage.

For wrist-recovery, strap-on weights give you the opportunity to work out your entire arm below the injured wrist. These pair best with low-impact exercises while still remembering that your wrist is not up for play. We suggest that you do as close as you can to a normal exercise session with the wrist weights, skipping anything that requires gripping or too-vigorous of movement. This way, both arms will get an even workout even while you are still technically allowing your wrist to rest.

Healing from a wrist injury involves a lot more than just watching an endless string of movies and eating popcorn.  With the right wrist brace and low-impact workout techniques, you should be more than capable of keeping up with much of your daily workout regimen and even trying some new exercises that you discovered during your recovery time. For more information on wrist injury, healing, treatment, and management, contact us today!

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