Tue. Jul 23rd, 2024

Maybe your wrist pain started off as an ache that you couldn’t ignore. Or maybe you fell and your wrists saved you from further injury — but now they’re now paying the price.

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From strains and sprains to tendonitis and carpal tunnel syndrome, wrist pain is all too common. But relief is possible by doing wrist pain exercises and stretches, says occupational therapist and certified hand therapist Jesse DeFilippo, OTR/L, CHT.

Why exercises and stretches help wrist pain

Overuse causes inflammation in the tendons of your wrist, and eventually, pain and inflammation limit your range of motion,” DeFilippo says. “But certain movements and stretches help lengthen and strengthen your wrist muscles, restoring your full range of motion. Wrist exercises can also help ease your pain.”

Only do these stretches and exercises if you can move your wrist without significant pain. On a scale of 1 to 10, DeFilippo says that your pain should be at a three or four or lower — any higher and you should see a healthcare provider instead of trying to go it alone.

Best stretches for wrist pain

There are two holy grails of wrist pain stretches: The wrist flexor stretch and the wrist extensor stretch. Good for most wrist pain causes, both of these movements start with you holding your arm out straight in front of you.

To do the wrist flexor stretch:

  1. Face your palm up.
  2. With your fingers straight, bend your wrist down toward the floor.
  3. Use your other hand to deepen the stretch by gently pushing your fingers downward. You should feel a mild to moderate stretch in your forearm.
  4. Hold the stretch for 10 to 20 seconds and then release.

To do a wrist extensor stretch:

  1. Face your palm down toward the floor.
  2. Keeping your fingers straight, bend your wrist down.
  3. Use your other hand to deepen the stretch by gently pushing against the back of your hand. You should feel a mild to moderate stretch in your forearm.
  4. Hold the stretch for 10 to 20 seconds and then release.

Do three to five sets of each stretch, up to three times a day.

“But don’t force it,” DeFilippo advises. “Do it until you feel a stretch you can tolerate, and then gradually increase the stretch over time. It shouldn’t hurt, so pull back if you feel any pain.”

Wrist range of motion exercises

These exercises involve going through the different ways your wrist can move:

  • Flexion: Bend your wrist forward and hold this position five seconds.
  • Extension: Bend your wrist backward and hold for five seconds.
  • Side to side: Moving only from your wrist joint, slowly move your hand side to side. This movement is similar to the wrist motion you’d do if you were, say, wiping down a table. Pause on each side rather than moving vigorously.

Do three sets of 10 repetitions for each exercise. “Start off doing each motion on its own to see if you can tolerate it,” DeFilippo recommends. “You can build up to holding a light weight while doing these exercises to further strengthen your wrist.”

Weighted wrist extension

To do a weighted wrist extension:

  1. Hold a can or a weighted handle in your affected hand.
  2. Position your hand palm down while holding the object.
  3. Slowly bend your wrist, lifting your hand up and then back to its starting position.
  4. Do three sets of 10 reps.

Over time, you can try using objects that are a little bit heavier.

Tendon glides

Tendon glides also help with your range of motion. To do them:

  1. Hold your hand up in a high-five position.
  2. Bend your fingers down toward your palm at your middle joints (proximal interphalangeal joints) and top joints (distal interphalangeal joints).
  3. Hold this bent position for five seconds.
  4. Return your fingers to their starting position.
  5. Do three sets of 10 reps.

Scapular squeeze

“This stretch is mainly for carpal tunnel and other nerve-related conditions,” DeFilippo says. “It engages nerves that run all the way from your neck to your hand.”

To do a scapular squeeze:

  1. Squeeze your shoulder blades together, opening up your chest.
  2. Hold this position for five seconds.
  3. Complete three sets of 10 reps.

Grip strengthening

If de Quervain’s tenosynovitis (aka de Quervain’s tendinosis) is your issue, DeFilippo says both grip strengthening and wrist range of motion exercises can help.

To do grip strengthening exercises, you need a rubber ball that you can hold in your hand. Squeeze and hold the ball for five seconds. Do three sets of 10.

“For each, do two sets of 15 reps. Stick to three times per week to ensure adequate rest and prevent overtraining,” he says. “But feel free to do wrist stretches and movements like flexion and extension every day up to three times daily without weight.”

Opposition stretch

To do an opposition stretch:

  1. Place your hand on a flat surface with your palm facing up.
  2. Touch the tip of your thumb to the tip of your pinkie finger. Keep your other three fingers as flat as possible against the surface.
  3. Hold this stretch for six seconds.
  4. Return your fingers to their original position.
  5. Repeat this movement 10 times.

Weighted wrist flexion

Before you start, know that this exercise isn’t for everyone.

“You should typically avoid weighted wrist flexion if you have carpal tunnel syndrome,” DeFilippo states. “The excessive compression during wrist flexion can aggravate the median nerve.”

If you’re not dealing with carpal tunnel, here’s how to do a weighted wrist flexion:

  1. Hold a can or a long handle in your hand with your palm facing up.
  2. Bend your wrist upward and then slowly return it to its original position.
  3. Do two sets of 15 repetitions on your affected wrist.
  4. Gradually increase the weight of the object you hold.

Wrist radial deviation strengthening

To do this exercise:

  1. Hold your affected wrist out as if you were about to shake someone’s hand. For example, if you’re exercising your right hand, your right palm should be facing left.
  2. Support your hand on a hard surface or by putting your other hand under your wrist.
  3. Holding a can or light weight, tilt your wrist up toward the ceiling and back down again.
  4. Do two sets of 15 repetitions on your affected wrist.

Finger spring

To do a finger spring:

  1. Put a rubber band around the outside of your fingers and thumb.
  2. Stretch the rubber band by pushing your fingers and thumb outward against it.
  3. Do two sets of 10 reps.

Other tips for wrist pain

To help relieve wrist pain, DeFilippo also recommends:

When to see a healthcare provider about wrist pain

Because wrist pain can have so many causes, it’s important to listen to your body. DeFilippo advises seeking medical attention if:

  • There’s any indication of a fracture or dislocation.
  • The pain impacts your ability to move the affected area.
  • The pain gets in the way of your ability to do regular daily activities.
  • Your wrist is swollen or bruised.
  • You do wrist pain exercises for two to three weeks but your symptoms don’t get better.

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