Whether you are a racket sport athlete, weight lifter, golfer or just on your computer all day – incorporating wrist strength and mobility into your fitness routine is extremely important to your physical health. Here are seven simple exercises to prevent carpal tunnel and other common wrist injuries.
Wrist, hand and forearm strength are extremely important for racquet sports, as they allow you to play for longer, hit the ball harder and absorb pace without fatiguing. If you practice yoga, it’s important to have strong wrists to grip the mat and hold all those Downward Dogs.
Our ever-increasing dependency on technology has us more easily prone to carpal tunnel, tendinitis and ulnar nerve injuries. Building strength and increasing range of motion in your wrists and forearms will allow you to keep doing everyday repetitive movements without stiffness and pain.
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Here are seven exercises you must do to prevent injury and build strength. These exercises will give you stronger wrists, help prevent injuries and pain from carpal tunnel and allow you to increase your speed of pronation or supination.
You will need dumbbells between 1-10 lbs, depending on your level of strength. If you don’t have dumbbells, grab a plastic water bottle. You will need a flat surface to kneel over, such as a fitness bench or small table.
1. Reverse Wrist Curls
Grab your dumbbells, place the back of your forearms flat on the bench and let your wrist hang over. Take the weight in your hand, lightly gripping it with all 5 fingers (it’s okay if it moves slightly in your hand).
Curl your wrist up as far as it can go naturally, then bring it back down slowly. Do not hyperextend the movement; your motion should be comfortable.
Repeat this motion for 10-15 reps on each hand. Of course, if you are just starting out, you may find this challenging, so pace yourself.
2. Wrist Curl Extension
Keep the front of your forearms flat on the bench and let your wrists fall over, palms facing up. Curl up towards your face, and as your bring the weight back down, let the dumbbell roll slightly to your fingertips.
This allows the weight to help you increase your range of motion. You want to keep your wrists from curling up with an angle; the movement should be as even as possible, so lean back a bit with your upper body to help. Repeat this motion for 10-15 reps on each hand.
Pro Tip: A variation to these wrist curls to make things a little bit more challenging or perhaps help strengthen specifically weak areas in your wrists is to do the above exercises with one finger at a time. This means your thumb and pinky (ring finger, middle finger, index finger) will be the only two digits grabbing the dumbbell, as you do either your extension or reverse wrist curls. You may find this extremely challenging, so be sure to have a much lighter weight handy if you decide to try this.
3. Radial and Ulnar Flexion
Start with your right hand firmly gripping the dumbbell while keep your wrists parallel to the ground. Your forearms are flat against the bench. This time you will be making a small movement to the right.
You may not feel something right away but you will after a few reps (trust me). After 15 reps you will take the movement to the opposite direction (inward). Once you have improved your form, you can do the exercise with both hands at the same time.
As these exercises target small ligaments and joints, it’s important that this exercise be done slowly and deliberately to avoid any sudden jerks and impingements. Repeat this motion for 10-15 reps on each hand.
4. Tennis Ball Squeezes
As I mentioned earlier, for people who play racket sports and need grip strength, this is a vital exercise. Hand strength not only allows you to hit the ball harder, but also allows to you absorb a harder and stronger pace.
Find a dead tennis ball, or to make it even easier, get one of those cushy stress balls. Squeeze the ball in your hand for 5 seconds (don’t forget to include your thumb) and then release.
A great time to do this exercise might be when you are driving or watching TV. You’ll want to repeat squeezing and releasing 15 times on each hand, squeezing for 3 seconds each time.
Along with wrist strength, it is often even more important to have flexibility in your wrists and forearms. Because we use our hands so much every day, you may not realize just how stiff your fingers and muscles can get, which leads to issues like carpal tunnel and tendinitis.
The forearms have three main muscles: flexors, extensors and brachioradialis. The flexors allow your wrist to bend inward. The extensors bend the wrist backward. The brachioradialis cause the elbow to bend, allowing the lower arm to move inward.
Tightness in these three muscles can cause pain that radiates down the arm into your hand. Preventative exercises and stretches can really benefit your long-term wrist and hand health, keeping carpal tunnel at bay.
1. Kneeling Forearm Stretch
Kneeling on a mat, place your palms on the mat in front of you with your fingers facing back towards your body. Slowly start to sit back towards your heels, the goal being to sit on your heels while keeping your palms flat on the mat. Hold for 20-30 seconds.
2. Reverse Kneeling Forearm Stretch
Then take the reverse by placing the backs of your hands on the mat in front of you with your fingers pointing towards your body, and sit back towards your heels. You should feel a deep stretch at the top of your forearms. Be careful not to roll your hands off the mat when doing this, even if that means you can’t sit very far back. Hold this stretch for 20-30 seconds.
3. Ulnar Nerve Stretch
Another great stretch and personal favorite is the Ulnar Nerve stretch. I was recently told a better name would be “The Batman Stretch.” The ulnar nerve starts from your neck and runs through the shoulder all the way down to your ring and pinky fingers. According to the Postgraduate Medical Journal (January 2007) ulnar nerve injury is the second most common nerve entrapment injury after carpal tunnel syndrome. Let’s stretch it, shall we?
Touch your index finger to your thumb and flip your hands back as your bring your palms to your face. The circle you’ve made with your index finger and thumb will fit around your eyes like goggles. Hold this stretch for 20-30 seconds while doing your best to keep your back straight and your shoulders and neck from tensing up.
Now that you have a few strength and flexibility exercises to refer to, you can start incorporating them into your weekly gym routine.
(Your Next Workout: 6 Exercises to Improve Shoulder Mobility)