Your wrist comprises several smaller bones and joints and connects your hand to your lower arm. Your wrist provides a necessary pivot point for things you do each day.
Have you ever had to come out of a high plank—not because your core was on fire—but because your wrists were? Certain strength moves can put a lot of pressure on your forearms. There’s good news for the sore-wristed, though: Simple adjustments and smarter stretching can help you avoid that annoying ache.
People who play sports or have a job that requires repetitive wrist motion, such as typing on a keyboard, working on an assembly line, or using power tools, have a high risk of wrist pain. An injury, a health condition, or improperly exercising can cause wrist pain.
Injuries or Health Conditions
Wrist pain can be caused by injuries or health conditions, such as:
- Carpal tunnel syndrome: When the nerve from your forearm to your palm becomes squeezed
- Ganglion cysts: Lumps or masses that are not cancerous
- Gout: A form of arthritis caused by a buildup of uric acid in the joints
- Fractures: A broken bone in your wrist
- Osteoarthritis: Another form of arthritis caused by wear and tear of the joints
- Sprains: An injury to the ligaments
- Strains: An injury to the muscles or tendons
- Tendinitis: When a tendon is inflamed
“Wrist pain and discomfort during [a workout] is likely due to improper wrist positioning, overloading weak structures, or overuse,” Paul Mostoff, DPT, a board-certified orthopedic specialist based in New Jersey, told Health.
“The tendons of the wrist can become hot, painful, inflamed, swollen, and degenerated over time—and trying to work out through the pain can turn a simple acute condition, like tendonitis, into something more serious and chronic,” explained Mostoff.
Take a basic exercise like a push-up: “It keeps the wrist in an extended position while loading your bodyweight through that structure, which will increase the pressure through the carpal tunnel and the wrist joint,” said Mostoff. “Do this for several sets, several times per week, and you open yourself up for some wrist discomfort and irritation, especially if your wrists aren’t accustomed to that type of exercise.”
A strength or mobility issue somewhere else, like the shoulders, can also link to wrist pain.
“The wrists and forearms might be taking more abuse during a workout because the shoulder joint lacks mobility, so the forearm muscles compensate,” said Mostoff.
Some adjustments can ease painful symptoms if you have exercise-induced soreness—or wrist pain for any reason.
Rest, Ice, and Massage
The first step is to stop doing any exercise that irritates the wrist.
“You’ve got to cut off the inflammation and [keep] any further damage from occurring,” said Mostoff.
To help your wrists heal, apply ice to the area daily and gently massage the muscles in the forearm to reduce tension, advised Mostoff. You might also consider wearing wrist splints to take pressure off the joints, added Mostoff.
To help with the pain, try over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like Aleve or Advil.
Exercises To Avoid
Resting your wrists is an essential part of the healing process. Avoid doing any stretches that put the wrist in a bent position while the pain persists.
Stretches to avoid may include:
- Downward dog
- Bench presses
- Squats while cradling a barbell or free weights
- Bicep curls (with poor form)
Stretch Your Forearms
Stretching is essential to prevent wrist problems. Do wrist stretches and rest your wrists whenever you can. Pay attention to your wrist and keyboard position if you use a computer often. Not placing your wrists in a comfortable position can contribute to pain.
Stretching your forearms may help release tension: “Bend the wrist up while keeping the arm and elbow straight and hold for 30 to 60 seconds,” said Mostoff. “Reverse the motion and bend the wrist down and hold for another 30 to 60 seconds.” To deepen the stretch, use the opposite hand to pull gently on your fingers.
Protect Your Wrists During Exercises
Once you are ready to get back to your strength training routine, you can protect your wrists by wrapping them with athletic tape or wearing a wrist brace.
Also, always maintain a neutral wrist position: “For example, if you’re doing bicep curls, make sure your wrist is completely straight as you curl the weight towards your body,” said Mostoff. You may be using too much weight if you cannot align your wrist.
“If you’re doing push-ups, use parallel bars or do the push-up on your knuckles so your wrists are straight while you perform the exercise,” said Mostoff.
Strengthening your wrists can help prevent wrist problems. Here’s how to strengthen your wrists to power through your resistance routine.
Wrist Flexion, Extension, Pronation/Supination
“The muscles that control the wrist are actually in the forearm,” said Mostoff. You can target those muscles with resisted wrist flexion and extension and pronation and supination.
Here’s how to do a wrist flexion and extension exercise:
- While seated on a bench, grab a dumbbell with an underhand grip (palms facing up). Rest your forearm on your thigh with your wrist hanging off your knee.
- Allow the dumbbell to lower as far as possible while you relax the wrist.
- Raise the dumbbell as high as possible while keeping the forearm still.
- Lower slowly, then repeat. Go for three sets of 10.
“You can also perform this exercise with your palms facing down to reverse the motion and strengthen the opposing muscle groups,” said Mostoff.
Or you can try a pronation and supination exercise, such as one with a hammer. Here’s how to do it:
- Hold the head of the hammer on the thumb side of your grip, keeping your elbow bent at a 90-degree angle.
- Carefully rotate your forearm until your palm faces upward.
- Rotate the back until your palm faces downward, then repeat. Go for three sets of 10.
Another great wrist-strengthening exercise is the farmer’s walk. Here’s how to do it:
- Stand tall while holding a pair of dumbbells or kettlebells on either side of your body with your palms facing in.
- Walk 50–100 feet.
Short and simple, the farmer’s walk exercise helps improve your overall grip strength and can help strengthen your core, too.
Play With Silly Putty
Finally, you can strengthen the muscles in your hands—which also support your wrists—by playing with silly putty, called therapy putty or theraputty. Roll, squeeze, and spread the putty with your fingers for several minutes daily.
Therapy putty may improve your finger and grip strength. One study published in 2023 found that therapy putty improved the grip strength of people with Hirayama disease, a rare neurological disease that causes weakness of the forearms and hands.
Consult a healthcare provider, physical therapist, or certified hand therapist if the pain doesn’t improve with ice, rest, or OTC pain relievers. See a healthcare provider if your wrist swells up or the pain is sharp or severe, said Mostoff.
You may have wrist pain if you use your wrist in repetitive motions, participate in sports, or overuse your wrist in any way. You may have an injury or a healthcare condition like carpal tunnel syndrome or gout.
Giving your wrist a break and rest is essential if you have wrist pain. Once you feel better, you can try exercises and stretches that will strengthen the muscles in your wrist and prevent future problems.