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Your wrist is one of your skeleton’s most complex structures. “Most joints have two or three bones, but the wrist has eight—so it’s like having eight marbles that all have to work together to allow your wrist to move,” explains Michelle Carlson, M.D., a hand and upper-extremity surgeon at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York. When you consider that your wrist is the bridge between whatever weight you are holding and the muscles in the rest of your body, it’s no wonder that it can get strained during a training session.
The most common complaint among active women is tendinitis in the wrist, although arthritis can also develop—even among younger patients. “Tendinitis can occur if you don’t hold the wrist in the correct position,” says Carlson. And while improper form won’t actually cause arthritis, it can aggravate a mild arthritis you may not even know you have. Some weightlifters also develop a condition known as “trigger finger,” in which a tendon in the finger gets “stuck and your finger pops in and out when you try to open and close it,” adds Carlson.
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Repetitive movements, such as lifting weights or performing weight- bearing activities like planks and burpees, can also lead to wrist sprains, says Anna Chow, P.T., a regional director at Professional Physical Therapy.
Pain in the wrist isn’t like normal muscle soreness, so if you feel an ache, it may well be due to an injury. “Your wrist shouldn’t be sore after working out,” says Carlson. Other signs of injury can include swelling and inflammation in and around the wrist.
If your wrist feels sore, start by skipping your upper-body routine and resting the joint. It can also help to take anti- inflammatories and ice the affected area. If the pain doesn’t subside within two weeks, see your doctor. “A mild injury should heal on its own, but if not you may need stronger anti-inflammatories, a cortisone shot, or even surgery,” says Carlson. Be patient: “Soft-tissue injuries can last from a few weeks to a few months, depending on the frequency, the severity of the injury, the age of the individual, and the proper recovery steps one is willing to take,” explains Chow.
However, if you try to push through pain with your regular routine, your efforts may backfire. “Tendinitis, which is an inflammatory condition, can turn into tendinosis, which involves degenerative changes of the tendon,” says Chow. By ignoring the symptoms and trying to work through the pain, an acute injury can turn into a chronic condition, she adds.
To help maintain a healthy and strong wrist, or if you’re recovering from an injury to the area, try to use machines over dumbbells or barbells in the weight room.
“You need a tighter grip to hold free weights, which can lead to more problems,” says Carlson. Proper form is also key to avoiding unnecessary pressure on the tendons and ligaments of the wrist. Preventive stretches can also help. (See “2 Stretches to Try,” below.) “Stretches will help give you more mobility and strength for weight- bearing activities,” says Chow. And having strong, flexible wrists will help keep your whole body feeling its best.
Keeping elbow straight, bring right arm in front of the body with the palm up. Gently press your fingers then your palm against the wall; you should feel the stretch at the front of the wrist/forearm. Hold for 20 seconds; switch sides and repeat.
Keeping the elbow straight, bring right arm in front of the body, palm facing the floor. Use left hand to gently bend the right wrist downward, feeling a stretch at the back of the right forearm/wrist. Hold for 20 seconds; switch sides.