Recently I’ve had a couple of people in class who are suffering from wrist and elbow issues. It occurred to me that while I wrote about the power generated from spinal rotation for sports such as golf and tennis last month, it’s that very same power generation that has a huge influence on the upper limb – shoulder, elbow and the more mobile connection to our “hand tool” – the wrist.
When serving, swinging, pitching, etc., the power transfers from grounded feet, through the legs, hips, torso, and shoulders and goes through the arm – the wrist is near the end line of this kinetic chain. With so much force driving through to the hand, the wrist, with its small bones and delicate tendons is vulnerable to injury. Looking at the detailed make-up of our wrist, hands and fingers, you find a seriously cool biological tool that gives us so much ability to work with precision! If you’ve ever injured your hand or even just one of your fingers, you realize right away how much you might take its use for granted.
Golfers or tennis players trying to drive power from the arm and hand instead of making full use of the core will inevitably experience an injury. Likewise, depending on your sport, repeatedly receiving impact forces, as with racquet sports, can aggravate or weaken the wrist. In fact, according to Hand Facts & Trivia, one fourth of athletic injuries involve the hand and wrist.
Let’s take a peek under the covers. Pictured here, the two forearm bones are the radius on the left, which is the thumb side, and the ulna on the right, the pinky finger side. (Note the “R” indicates this is a right arm in the X-ray, palm is face away from you). The collection of 8 small carpal bones are bound by numerous small ligaments and have gliding joints that allow the many directions of movement available in the wrist. These little guys have a huge responsibility!
Repeated actions in sports or from daily activities such as working at a keyboard/mouse can be prevented by:
Reviewing and correcting your technique and form with your coach; examining and addressing improper grip placement or ergonomics.
Strengthening the forearm muscles, the primary movers of the wrist.
Stretch the hand/wrist in flexion and extension to maintain flexibility for range of motion.
Wrist Flexion: Straighten your right arm, fully extending your elbow without locking it out. Flex the Right hand, palm toward wrist, using your left hand to apply gentle pressure to the back of the right hand.
Wrist Extension: Keep your right arm straight as above. Extend the wrist, bending the back of the right hand toward the forearm. Apply gentle pressure with the left hand, pulling back on the fingers.
Hold each for 30 seconds. Or, if very tight – hold for 10 seconds or less and then release; and then repeat again 3-4 times. Repeat likewise with the left wrist.
The Bean Bag Exercise for Strength
The Bean Bag is a great little auxiliary piece of Pilates equipment that you can make yourself. It is comprised of a beanbag weight (1, 2 or 3 pounds) attached to a 6’ rope or cord that is securely connected to a dowel rod. The exercise is designed to strengthen both the shoulders and the forearms, while targeting the core and back.
Start with the cord fully wrapped around the dowel with the weight hanging on the side opposite you.
Stand in Pilates stance with deep connection to your core and be aware of keeping the dowel level throughout the exercise. Grasp the dowel firmly but avoid overly gripping. Hold the dowel out away from the body at shoulder height, drawing your shoulders down into your back. Keep your elbows straight but not locked, and breathe throughout the exercise.
You’ll slowly unwind the cord through the alternating motion of flexing and extending the hands in opposite directions. I call this motion “revving the motorcycle.”
Truly exaggerate the action of reaching the knuckles forward with the one hand and then driving the knuckles back toward your forearm as you “rev,” and then switch and repeat with the other hand to continue unwinding.
Once the weight has reached the ground, repeat the action in the opposite direction to wind the cord back to the start position.
Wrist Deviation – “Hammer” Exercises
Deviation refers to the movement of the wrist where the hand “waves” back and forth in a sweeping motion– in the direction of the pinky-side and the thumb side. This movement is especially important to setting the hand placement for the golf swing.
These kinds of exercises can be done with a dumb bell. But I really love working on strength in this range by using an offset or counter-weight, like a hammer. Watch Antonio in this YouTube video demonstrate it around the 1 minute mark, with his macho mallet! He also uses the hammer for axial rotation of the wrist, as in the action of turning a door handle. (Running time 2:43).
Use these exercises to keep you strong and ready for your sport, and minimize pain in daily tasks. What’s more, you’ll avoid wrist pain the next time you’re executing straight arm planks during core work!
We look forward to seeing you in the studio!