Wrist Exercises

Wrist exercises

Wrist exercises are essential following injuries such as sprains, strains or fractures. The following exercises help improve mobility and strength in the wrist joint.

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When can I start wrist exercises?

This depends on your injury and how long ago it occured. Always consult your doctor or medical professional before beginning rehabilitation exercises. Whatever your injury though you will go through the following phases:

Acute Phase

Immediately following an injury, the primary focus is on reducing swelling and pain. This phase typically involves rest, ice, compression, and elevation (PRICE protocol). Movements or exercises are usually not recommended in the first 48-72 hours post-injury, depending on the severity.

Early mobility

After the initial acute phase, and with the swelling and pain starting to decrease, gentle mobilization exercises might be recommended. This could be as early as a few days to a week after injury, but only under medical guidance. The goal here is to prevent stiffness and promote circulation without aggravating the injury.

Rehabilitation phase

Once the acute symptoms have significantly reduced, a more structured exercise regimen can begin. This phase includes exercises to improve range of motion, strength, and flexibility. The timing for this phase can vary widely, from a week to several weeks post-injury, based on the injury’s severity and healing progress.

Return to activity

The final phase involves exercises that prepare the wrist for returning to daily activities or sports. This includes exercises that simulate work or sports-specific movements. The timing for this phase is highly individualized and can range from a few weeks to several months after the injury.

Wrist stretching & mobility exercises

The following are examples of wrist mobility exercises. You can do these exercises a few times a day as long as they are not painful, or make your injury worse.

Wrist flexor stretch

This stretches the wrist flexor muscles. Pull back on your fingers until you feel a stretch. Hold for 10 – 12 seconds and repeat 3 times.

Assisted Supinator Stretch

This stretch requires the help of a partner or therapist to stretch the muscles which supinate the wrist (turn the hand over).

  • Lie in a relaxed position with the upper arm supported
  • The therapist fully pronates your hand (so the palm faces down)
  • You should feel a stretch in your wrist and forearm
  • Hold this position for up to a minute provided it does not cause pain
  • You can also do this with the elbow bent which reduces the stretch on the biceps muscle, isolating the supinator

Muscles Stretched:

  • Supinator
  • Biceps Brachii
  • Brachioradialis
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Prolonged Wrist Stretches

This exercise aims to increase the range of motion into pronation and supination. Pronation is the movement of turning the hand so the palm faces downwards. Supination is the opposite movement so the palm ends facing upwards.

Muscles Stretched:

In pronation:

  • Supinator
  • Biceps Brachii
  • Brachioradialis

In supination:

  • Pronator Teres
  • Pronator Quadratus

Wrist strengthening exercises

Putty Exercises (Various)

You can use putty to strengthen the small muscles of the wrist and hand. This is useful after injuries such as a fracture to any of the small bones in the hand or a wrist, thumb, or finger sprain.

  • Grip in both hands and pull apart to work on wrist deviation strength
  • You can hold it in one hand and twist it with the other to work on wrist extension
  • You can squeeze the putty to improve grip strength

Muscles Worked: This depends on the exact exercise, but generally, the intrinsic muscles of the hand are worked to grip it, and then the forearm muscles control wrist extension, flexion, and radial and ulna deviation.

Wrist flexion exercise

You can perform this exercise with a dumbbell as shown, or with a resistance band. It is great for strengthening the wrist flexor muscles of the forearm after wrist and elbow injuries. In particular this is an important one for Golfer’s elbow.

  • To strengthen the muscles which flex the wrist, the athlete sits with the forearm supported and palm facing upwards.
  • Starting with the wrist bend downwards and a small weight in the hand, the athlete pulls the wrist upwards, keeping the forearm flat on the table.
  • They then slowly reverse this movement.

The muscles worked are the Flexor Carpi Radialis, Flexor Carpi Ulnaris, Flexor Digitorum Superficialis, and Flexor Pollicis Longus.

Wrist extension exercise

Wrist extension exercises are rarely used in weight training programmes, although it is a great exercise for the rehabilitation of injuries such as tennis elbow and sprains/fractures of the wrist.

  • Support the arm on a bench or table as shown, with the palm facing downwards.
  • Pull the wrist back so that the dumbbell moves towards the body.
  • Slowly return to that starting position.

Muscles Worked: Extensor Carpi Ulnaris, Extensor Carpi Radialis Brevis, Extensor Carpi Radialis Longus, Extensor Pollicis Longus, Extensor Digitorum Communis.

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Finger Exercises with Rubber Band

Rubberband exercises are a great way for strengthening the finger extensors. They are good for treating tennis elbow injuries as the same muscles cause pain at the elbow, and control finger extension.

  • Place a rubber band around the fingers and thumb
  • The athlete spreads the fingers apart as far as possible
  • You can do this on all fingers at once, or between two individual fingers

Muscles Worked:

  • Extensor Digitorum Communis
  • Extensor Pollicis Longus

Ulna & Radial Deviation

Ulna and radial deviation are the movements of tilting the wrist from one side to the other. Radial deviation is moving the thumb side of the hand down towards the wrist and ulna deviation is moving the little finger side down.

To work on ulna deviation, the athlete holds a weighted bar in the hand with the arm by their side so that the palm faces inwards and the weight is at the back, as shown.

The athlete then tilts the wrist so that the little finger moves upwards. To work radial deviation, keep the arm stays in the same position but the weight is moved to be in front of the hand. Pull the wrist up so that the thumb moves towards the wrist

Why are wrist exercises important?

Following injury, wrist exercises:

  • Promote Healing: Gentle exercises help increase blood flow to the injured area, delivering the nutrients and oxygen needed for healing.
  • Prevent Stiffness: Immobilizing a wrist after injury can lead to stiffness and decreased range of motion. Exercises help maintain flexibility and prevent joint stiffness.
  • Strengthen Muscles: Following an injury, muscles around the wrist can weaken due to disuse. Exercises targeted at these muscles help in regaining strength, which is vital for supporting and stabilizing the wrist joint.
  • Reduce Swelling: Movement helps reduce swelling by encouraging fluid drainage from the injured area. This is important for reducing pain and improving function.
  • Improve Functionality: Exercises help in regaining pre-injury levels of functionality, making it easier to perform daily activities and return to sports or work activities.
  • Decrease Pain: Through strengthening and stabilizing the wrist, exercises can help manage and reduce pain. Movement also stimulates the production of endorphins, natural pain-relievers produced by the body.
  • Prevent Re-injury: By strengthening the muscles around the wrist and improving flexibility, exercises can help protect against future injuries.

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