Wrist pain is often caused by impingement, an injury that occurs when your radius hits your wrist bones. “It typically happens in people who do a lot of yoga,” says Dr. Kevin Laudner, a kinesiologist at Illinois State University. It’s also a common injury in gymnasts. Being in a position that extends the wrist, like plank pose, puts a lot of pressure on the joint. If your wrist is not flexible or strong enough to prevent the bones from touching, you can wind up with painful impingement, and aggravated tendons and ligaments.
“The bones contact when you reach your end range of motion, so if you improve your flexibility, they won’t have that contact,” Laudner says. So make sure to stretch your wrists often, back and forth, side to side. Also, weak wrist muscles will make your body rely more on the contact between bones to hold the position. “If you’re stronger, you won’t have that contact because your muscles are holding you in the position you want to be in,” Laudner says. He recommends the following exercises to improve your strength:
Strength Exercise #1
“Eccentric exercise works the muscle the most, so you’ll get the biggest gains strengthening it that way,” Laudner says. That means you’re strengthening your wrist muscles while they’re extending rather than contracting.
Rest the back of your forearm on a table or on your leg. Your palm should be facing up, and your hand should be aligned with your arm. Place a light weight in that hand, then slowly lower the weight toward the floor. The movement should take you five seconds, then bring the wrist back up to starting position.
Aim to complete two to three sets of 10 to 15 reps on each wrist four to five days a week. If your form deteriorates before getting to 10 reps, or you’re really sore the next day, lighten the load. Conversely, Laudner says, “if you can easily get to 12 to 15 reps using strict form, then you need to increase the resistance.”
Strength Exercise #2
Laudner recommends radial strengthening as well. “That’s when you bend your wrist toward your thumb side,” Laudner says.
Grab a hammer by the handle, then stand with your arms at your side. Tilt the head of the hammer toward the ceiling and slowly lower it down. Repeat according to the same instructions on Strength Exercise #1. “If the head of the hammer is too light, wrap something around it like an ankle weight,” Laudner says.
Final note: You don’t have to give up planks or pushups while you’re rehabbing your wrists. “In the meantime, rather than getting into plank position with your palms flat on the floor,” Laudner says, “do it on your knuckles. That way the wrist doesn’t bend into that hyperextended position” in which it makes that painful bone-on-bone contact.