Why Does My Wrist Hurt When I Exercise?

Posted in Wrist   |   By

Erin Barsness

December 02, 2019

Why Does My Wrist Hurt During Exercise?

No one will warn you about this ahead of time, but wrist pain and intensive exercise tend to go hand-in-hand. You may feel wrist pain when you lift weights, when you do pushups or other floor exercises, or after a bout of yoga or pilates. You might even start to feel wrist pain when you clench your hands while running or doing exercises that don't directly relate to the wrist. You may start to feel wrist pain during normal activities after working out.

To put it bluntly, the wrists are one of the most delicate and complex parts of the body. You don't actually have any muscles in your hand, for example, so the wrist contains all the tendons, ligaments, nerves, and everything else that makes hands both strong and sensitive. This means that any amount of straining, spraining, or pinching that goes on with your wrist can cause pain. The pain can last for a moment or it can prolong until the wrist heals.

In a few cases, a bad wrist injury may never fully heal and so mild triggerable wrist pain becomes a part of your life. 

But I Don't Recall a Recent Wrist Injury, Why the Wrist Pain?

If you're experiencing wrist pain and you're not sure why, there are a wide number of possible causes. The best way to hunt down why your wrist hurts is to look at what you've been up to, along with when and how the pain appears.

For athletes and people getting into more intensive exercise, wrist pain is most likely to be caused by a minor sprain or strain from working hard and possibly from imperfect form while you exercise. Let's dive into the possible causes of your exercise-related wrist pain.

 

Wrist Pain from Weightlifting or Yard Work

When you lift heavy barbells or haul large yard tools around (surprisingly similar experiences), your wrists take on both clenching and lifting at the same time. This action is not always well-balanced and we are often not careful to ensure that the amount of work being done is something your wrist muscles are prepared for.

If you experience pain primarily when you are lifting weights or working with heavy or laden tools, then the most likely cause is a mild wrist sprain. Wrist sprains occur when you accidentally tear a tendon or other soft connective tissue inside the wrist. In other words, you strained and/or twisted your wrist too much and now some tissue inside needs to heal before your wrist will stop hurting and full-strength returns.

How to Avoid Weightlifting Wrist Pain

If you don't want to cause a sequence of minor wrist injuries while weightlifting, work on your form and listen to your wrists. The wrists and elbows are the biggest obstacles in upping your weight training, but they can handle more when your form is good. Proper form prevents torquing that can cause damage and keeps your body in line to feel when you are straining a joint too far.

The two best ways to ensure good form, especially if you are working to exhaustion, is to wear wrist wraps or wrist bracing gloves and to lift a bar. The gloves keep your wrists from twisting and the bar keeps your weights balanced instead of relying on perfect stabilization from each arm.

 

Wrist Pain from Pushups, Pilates, Yoga or Floor Exercises

Pushups,  yoga, and other exercises that take place on the floor often require you to lift yourself up off the floor on your hands. This is a simple enough move, to start with, but if your wrist hurts when you plank or push then something has gone wrong.

Just as the position of your feet is important when doing stand and running exercises, the position of your hands and wrists also matters when doing floor exercises. Any time you are holding weight on your hands, it's vital that the angle of your wrists and elbows line up to properly support your weight without torque. This can be particularly challenging when you are purposefully twisting your hands at an angle to work out tertiary muscles.

You may also be feeling pain during floor exercises if your wrist was injured in another activity or even strained during office work and is not yet recovered before your next pushup or Downward Dog.

How to Avoid Pushup Wrist Pain

If you want to stop feeling pain during floor exercises, you'll need to start by treating any current inflammation. Then fix your form. Look up the moves you're trying and pay close attention to the form of the teachers, models, and diagrams for how to do each exercise. Don't just look at the wrists, also take a look at the elbow and shoulder alignment to ensure that your body matches the modeled exercises.

Next, pay attention to your own body as you exercise. If your shoulder or elbow is stiff, for example, this can transfer tension to your wrist or alter your posture as you exercise. Do your best to limber up your arms from the shoulder down to the wrist before you start to put weight on your arms. Roll your shoulders and gently massage your shoulder blades to identify and loosen knots. Shake and stretch out your elbows. Then intentionally roll your wrists, each with the opposite hand. You can also roll out your wrists to loosen them by pressing them gently in each direction against the floor. Once your shoulders, elbows, and wrists are fully warmed up and you are confident about the posture for each exercise, try again.

Finally, wrap your wrists if you have an ongoing wrist sensitivity and pay close attention to pain signals as you exercise.

 

Post Traumatic Wrist Arthritis

Arthritis is defined as a condition where the cartilage at the ends of bones breaks down. This causes pain, swelling, and stiffness in a joint. It can be caused by a lifetime of stress or by a degenerative disease known as rheumatoid arthritis. But it can also happen as the result of a past injury.

You may be thinking that you are too young or too active to have arthritis but if your wrist/wrists hurt continuously and you have a bad wrist injury in your past, it's possible that your wrists took permanent damage from the injury. This is called post-traumatic arthritis.

This type of arthritis generally develops in the months or years after a fracture or other type of truly severe wrist injury. It's often difficult to diagnose because the pain may begin years after the initial injury, so athletes may have completely forgotten that this could be a cause.

Post-traumatic arthritis is most likely to occur if a wrist fracture or bad ligament tear causes the wrist to heal out of alignment. This, in turn, damages the cartilage which wears away and causes ongoing pain over time. Your pain is more likely to be post-traumatic if you feel shifting, crunching, or creaking inside the wrist when the pain occurs.

How to Avoid Post-Traumatic Arthritis Wrist Pain While Exercising

Post-traumatic wrist arthritis may be late-onset but it is also permanent without surgery. If your physician diagnoses this condition, then you will need to consider corrective surgery to re-align your wrist. You may still have cartilage troubles throughout your life, but you can still do your favorite exercises if you do so carefully with awareness that your wrists are a weak point in your form.

Wearing firm wrist wraps or supportive wrist braces is the best way to continue exercising with post-traumatic arthritis. However, if any particular exercise becomes too painful no matter what brace or position you use, then you'll need to re-build your workout routine.

You may also find that giving extra attention to wrist-care can be rewarding and open more exercises up to you. Remember to roll out your wrists and to treat them with heat, cold, and pressure as is most fitting depending on whether they hurt or swell. Always exercise with wraps or wrist braces to reduce the chances of additional wrist injury or pain.

 

When to See Your Doctor

Mild wrist pain when you pump heavy weights or do intensive floor exercises is normal. This is the feeling of your wrist warning you not to go too far. Continuous or intense wrist pain, on the other hand, should lead you straight to the doctor. As well as wrist pain that lasts into your daily activities beyond intensive exercise.

Your doctor will perform a wrist examination to determine if you have strained, sprained, or fractured your wrist in some way that might require you to change your activities or precautions. Minor sprains and strains should be rested from intense exercise for a few days with RICE treatment at home. For more serious conditions, listen to your doctor's advice.

If you have regular wrist concerns, start including wrist-wrapping or wrist braces in your routine to provide your wrists with the extra support they need to keep up with the rest of your body. 

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Wrist injuries and unexplained wrist pain can slow down your workout, but it's worth stopping for a few days and being careful with wrist braces to take good care of your wrists. After all, they are the key to the functioning of your hands. To help you find the right wrapping or wrist brace solution to prevent wrist pain and injury during workouts, contact us today!

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