There’s been a lot of talk about wrist discomfort so I wanted to bring back a post that I wrote a while back for CrossFit Southbay. The cause for wrist discomfort can include problems at the wrist, but can also stem from the shoulders, neck, thoracic spine, or even your squat! Here are my thoughts on some causes and what to do to address them…
1. Decreased wrist flexibility. Sounds simple enough, but if you think about it we don’t give enough time to stretching our wrists. And think about how hard they work throughout the day! And then you come to the gym and lift heavy weights with tight wrists so no wonder they are not happy. If you take a look at the picture below, you can see the the wrist muscles cross not only the wrist, but also the elbow. So when you stretch or get into the muscles with the lacrosse ball you have to make sure you target all areas. I will go over some ideas below.
2. Decreased shoulder and elbow flexibility. If you think about each of the4 movements that usually give people trouble (front squat, clean, OH squat, thruster) you can see how much shoulder and elbow flexibility is actually required to do the lifts correctly. If you don’t have the flexibility, more pressure is placed on your wrists. Let’s break down these movements to help explain my point:
– Front squat/clean/thruster (grouping these together because the arms are essentially in the same position for both)
– OH squat (see image below): Please see the K-Starr video below for in-depth info on this. Basically, you need to keep your armpits forward (external rotation) in order to decrease stress on the wrists.
3. All 4 movements create a lot of stretch on the nervous system. For a more depth description on this topics you can read my old post on neurodynamics, but basically the nerves are being tugged and pulled as your body moves into extreme ranges of movement as seen with the above lifts. And if you have poor mobility, your nerves are being stretched even more! This can cause damage to the nerve and lead to pain/numbess/tingling/burning type symptoms. And because it’s the nerve being irritated, the symptoms can travel down the arm to the wrist, even if the wrist is not the source of the problem. For example: you can have really tight shoulders, but feel wrist pain during your OH squats because your nervous system is being stretched so much.
4. The last thing is being aware of the rest of your body from the shoulders down. If you have to hold a heavy weight while lowering into a squat, full ankle/hip/spine range is required to keep your upper body in a good position to keep it healthy. If your squat foundation is not good, you better believe your upper body is going to take the brunt putting more stress on your wrist (as well as other areas).
So if you have wrist problems it could stem from one of the above causes. The pain in your wrist may start as just a nagging injury, but if not addressed can lead to actually damage to the ligaments and bones in your wrist. Even a swollen cyst in your wrist that comes and goes frequently. Especially if you are repetitively catching heavy weight in a clean. The wrist wraps that a lot of you wear can help to support your wrists and protect it, but they can only help so much if you have tightness somewhere else that’s putting more stress on your wrists.
First step to fixing your wrist problem, watch this video from K-Starr. He goes into more depth of why we have wrist problems and how to fix them!
What you can do to give your wrists a break:
1. Shoulder flexibility: get on the foam roller, lacrosse ball and bands.
2. Elbow flexibility: this is an area that may be skipped a lot, but can be a major source of problems for the wrists. The muscles (shown in image above) work really hard all day, especially when gripping heavy weights or the bar. The lacrosse ball is probably the best to get into the muscles, but just make sure you get the muscles all around your elbow.
3. Wrist flexibility: stretch your wrists! Easy, just pull your hand down/up and hold. Here’s some K-Starr videos for more ideas…
4. Practice using the hook grip when appropriate! This will increase efficiency (so you don’t blow out your grip strength) and decrease stress additional stress on your wrists/forearms.