By Courtney Dynes, DPT, ART-Cert.
With winter in full swing and the new year quickly approaching, people will be joining gyms and group fitness classes in efforts to improve their overall fitness and health! Over the years, there has been an increased interest in group fitness, especially CrossFit and functional strength training. It is important to review ways to maintain healthy joints while performing activities that involve lifting weights and accepting body weight onto your hands, such as when performing burpees, handstands, pushups, leopard crawls, and many more. This article focuses on ways to maintain or improve the health of your wrists while at the gym.
The wrist is a complex joint that is formed between the distal ends (furthest from the body) of the radius and ulna (the 2 forearm bones) and the carpal bones connecting the forearm to the hand. Each bone within the wrist is joined to the bone next to it by one or more ligaments. Most of the muscles, which act on the wrist joint, are located within the forearm with only the tendon crossing the wrist joint and inserting on the hand. The muscles on the backside of the forearm act to extend the wrist (pull hand back), and the muscles on the front side of the forearm act to flex the wrist (move palm forward). Some of these muscles also help to perform radial and ulnar deviation, which results in moving your hand side to side. There are 3 nerves that pass from the forearm, across the wrist and into the hand. These nerves are the radial nerve, median nerve and ulnar nerve. Common injuries to the wrist include muscle strains, ligament sprains and tears, and carpel tunnel syndrome.
Amongst the motions of the wrist, having adequate extension range of motion (ROM) is important so that you can properly perform lifting exercises, such as front squats and squat cleans as well as perform activities that involve your body weight being transferred onto your hands, such as push-ups, burpees, handstands, and many more. Lifting and performing repetitive gripping activities, such as pull ups/chin ups, cause the wrist flexor muscles to become tighter over time. Wrist extension ROM can become limited due to loss of extensibility and tightness along the wrist flexors. If wrist extension ROM is lacking, this can result in injury to your wrists in addition to cause compensatory patterns to arise in the shoulder and elbow, which can result in injury to these respective body parts. With injury to the wrist, a decrease in grip strength can occur, which can affect your performance with maintaining a neutral wrist position while lifting and with performing pull ups. In order to reduce tightness and improve overall function of the wrists, stretching and mobility warm-ups are essential.
Here are a few exercises that can help improve and maintain wrist mobility:
1) Wrist extension static stretch: straighten your arm with palm facing up, push hand down to extend wrist backward, hold for 20-30 seconds, repeat 3-5 times
2) Wrist flexion stretch: straighten arm with palm facing down, push hand down, hold for 20-30 seconds, repeat 3-5 times
3) Prayer stretch: place hands together in front of you with palms facing each other as if in prayer. While maintaining contact between your hands, slowly lower as far as you can.
4) Kneeling wrist extension stretch: kneel on the ground with your arms in front of your body and you palms pointing away from you. Place the fingers on the ground and slowly shift your weight onto your hands and forward until you feel a stretch. Repeat 10 times.
5) Wrist walks: place your palms on the 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 cannot walk your hands any further, turn your hands around so your fingers are now pointing towards the floor. Walk your wrist back up the wall as far upward as possible. Repeat 5-10 times.
6) Trigger point rolling both sides of the forearm to improve soft tissue mobility
Lastly, grip and forearm strength to facilitate stabilization at the wrist is also an important component. We want to make sure that as we maintain or improve the flexibility and mobility of the wrists, we add strength. Having an increase of ROM from the exercises and stretches above without adding strength can be disadvantageous to the integrity of the wrist joint. Having adequate strength as well as flexibility is important in maintaining proper mechanics while performing exercise routines. Incorporating strengthening exercises that focus on all motions of the wrist will allow you to continue with your fitness goals as well as to improve your daily life functions.
Courtney is available for scheduling out of the Burr Ridge clinic: (630) 371-1623