Don’t let wrist pain sideline your game
Thursday, May 18, 2017
If you've ever injured or experienced soreness in your wrist, you know how debilitating it is. Simple tasks like turning a door knob or buttoning clothes can trigger pain — just imagine what a wrist injury could do to your workout routine or playing schedule.
To avoid being sidelined by a bad wrist, here's a look at how problems start in this joint and how to sidestep them.
Wrist problems can stem from acute injuries, such as landing on the wrist in a fall or impact with another player, which generally occur in sports with high levels of contact or speed like hockey. More frequently, we see chronic injuries where the wrist gradually becomes stressed due to regular misuse or overuse.
The wrist is a small and complex joint that rarely gets a break throughout the day. Even when we're at rest, our recreation activities more often than not involve using the hands, therefore it should come as no surprise that wrists are highly prone to overuse injuries.
In this article, we'll focus on prevention methods for wrist pain due to overuse.
Such problems are common in sports where athletes do the same movements over and over like tennis, golf and baseball as well as those where the hands bear weight, such as weight lifting, acrobatics, gymnastics and yoga. Outside the arena of athletics, repetitive stress injuries (RSI) generally afflict people who do repetitive work with their hands including musicians, carpenters and anyone who works on a computer.
Don't forget wrist warmups
Despite the key role our hands and wrists have in the myriad activities we perform daily, how often do we really take time to prepare them for all this abuse?
Warming up the wrists and stretching all the little muscles around them is often neglected in favor of the larger muscle groups involved in the given activity. Warmup exercises aid in preventing injury by increasing circulation to the area with the added benefit of improving range of motion in the hands and wrists when practiced regularly.
There are several different options when it comes to wrist warmups. Ideally, choose one tailored to the activity you are about to undertake. For a general routine, I particularly like a range-of-motion warmup provided by Harvard Health because it's designed to move all the hand's tendons through their specific functions.
Without a proper warmup, the muscles don't reap the benefits that well-circulating blood contributes to their functioning and will generally cramp up, according to chiropractic physician and bassist Randal Kertz, in an article for musicians in No Treble. After warming up, he emphasizes the importance of gradually building up the intensity of the activity.
Kertz's insights easily apply to people engaged in other repetitive activities involving the hands
"What we often do when muscles cramp up is play through the pain, and hope it goes away, which it usually does," Kertz said. Yet he warns, "The pain subsiding doesn't signal everything is OK; your body may simply be telling you it has shifted the strain from the primary muscles you are using to secondary muscles to help out."
Strengthen key muscles
Good range of motion and warm muscles are only part of the equation in the prevention of repetitive motion injuries — strength is also essential. There's often an imbalance of strength between the upper and underside of the forearm due to everyday daily activities that involve holding the arms in a position where the wrists are bent back to some degree, explains yoga teacher Doug Keller.
"This hardens the forearm and contracts the top of the wrist joint, causing tightness and pinching between the bones at the crease of the wrist," Keller writes in a recent Yoga International article. "The health of our wrists depends on (balancing) the strength and tone of the muscles on the top and bottoms of our forearms."
To stretch and strengthen the forearms Keller recommends doing "fist curls" with a loose fist and the palm facing upward. That exercise is then counterbalanced by repeating it with the palm downward, which actually releases tension built up in the tops of the forearms.
Reducing this tension and strengthening the palm side of the forearm will help make the wrists less vulnerable to injury. However, according to Keller, the actual cause of most wrist injuries to yoga practitioners stems from improperly bearing weight on the hands.
Even in the popular Downward Dog pose — which doesn't place the full weight of the body on the hands — placement of weight on the hands is still critical. It's important that bases of the index finger and thumb are firmly in contact with the floor and carry more weight than either the heel of the hand or the bases of the outer three fingers.
Be aware of the whole body
Chronic problems in the wrist can also stem from issues higher up in the arm, shoulders or even in the back. Poor postural habits can be detrimental to wrist health over time.
"When the shoulders and upper back don't provide a supportive structural base for arm movements, the burden of the activity may fall on the smaller joints," writes yoga teacher Marla Apt in Yoga International. "Furthermore, poor alignment in the shoulders and upper back can constrict nerves in the arms, which can manifest as pain, swelling and numbness in the wrists."
Apt features specific yoga postures that help improve skeletal alignment and enable the larger, stronger muscles of the back and shoulders to support and guide the movements of the hands, elbows and wrists. Equally valuable is the awareness developed through a regular yoga practice in helping athletes of all types to slow down to observe their patterns and habits so they can change the ones that spell trouble for their wrists.
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