In my years of practice, I get a lot of clients asking me to help treat their wrist pain. A common feedback is that this wrist pain had developed after doing CrossFit for several months. This is quite a common occurrence, particularly when they graduate from boot camp to WODs where the Olympic lifts were being introduced.
Before we begin any sort of movements involving our hands (most movements), it is very important to first mobilize the wrists. As you can see in the diagram, there are a few simple mobility exercises you can perform to strengthen the wrist.
- With supination and pronation, you can grab the middle of the PVC pipe and twist clockwise/counter clockwise for better wrist mobility.
- With the wrist stretches, do them twice and hold for 10 seconds.
- With each exercise, do 10 reps.
- Practice grip strengthening by hanging off the bar and holding on for time.
The most common wrist complaint that people have is the feeling of pain on wrist extension. This has a lot to do with movements, such as cleans, front squats and thrusters.
- The “Clean”: People often catch the bar on their wrist rather than “getting underneath” and catching it onto their shoulders. The hands are there to guide the bar onto the shoulders, and not to support the entire weight of the bar! When you raise the elbows up, it prevents the bar from landing on the collarbone as that simple action of raising the elbows engages the front part of your deltoids to “cushion” the bar in the catch position. As demonstrated in the below diagram, you can see in the “WRONG” picture, a man demonstrating poor technique. Notice how the bar hits the collarbone and exerts so much pressure on his wrists. A lot of beginners often adopt this poor technique, which eventually leads to bruises on their collarbone and wrist complaints.
We often hear the words from the box coaches “Elbows up!”. This is fundamental because it saves the wrist from bearing the weight. The weight of the bar should be resting on the shoulders and not on your hands. A few reasons why people can’t get the elbows up are:
- Poor shoulder mobility
- Tight triceps
Poor technique and habits
- Front Squats/Thrusters: A good clean technique is the core of having good thrusters and front squats. If you perfect the clean technique by keeping the elbows up, it will serve as the basis for explosiveness in the thrusters and front squats. Front squats are basically tightening your abdominal core and maintaining the clean position whilst squatting down below parallel and up again. With thrusters, you combine the front squat with an overhead press upon rising from the squat, using momentum from hip extension and while pressing the weight above your head, locking your elbows out in full extension. For people learning the thruster, often they don’t lock out in full position, leaving their wrists in an extended position, as depicted in the diagram. Continuing with such poor technique will eventually lead to wrist pain upon extension.
Solutions for the above:
a) Elbows Up: Start with a lighter weight and keep those elbows up! When you start getting into a habit of constantly bringing the elbows up, you develop good technique. Eventually, you catch the bar more on your shoulders as you use the hands to guide the weight onto your shoulders as you keep those elbows up. If you find difficulty raising the elbows up, chances are you may have to stretch your triceps muscles and work more on your shoulder flexibility.
b) Stretch the triceps muscle: This is particularly good for people who can’t get their fingers to touch their front shoulders. Mobility also needs to happen here! By grabbing the PVC pipe as shown by the athlete in this picture, he uses the bottom LEFT hand to bring the pipe forward thus pulling the RIGHT hand backwards, delivering an amazing stretch to his RIGHT triceps muscle.
c)Improve shoulder flexibility: You can spend time with the PVC pipe and improve your range of motion with:
- Internal rotation
- External rotation
Often, coaches will get everyone to spend time mobilizing their shoulders with a PVC pipe and/or resistance bands. Take the time to work on your shoulder flexibility, the investment is worth it!
d) Mobilize or get spinal adjustment in the mid-upper back: Get a foam roller and mobilize the midback to get good extension in that area. Before I start with any movements involving cleans, front squats & thrusters, I always spend a good 3 minutes slowly rolling with the foam roller up and down my spine. Too often because of our poor hunched posture, we have poor mobility in the mid-upper back. Chiropractors help to improve one’s posture with specific adjustments and exercises for better spinal health and posture. Good posture > Better function > Personal Records!
e) 1:1 training with your coach: Get your box coach to carefully analyze your technique if you complain of wrist pains. Also, you can take a video of your workout to better scrutinize your technique. Too often, the main cause of pain is incorrect form. Often with the repetitive movements in some of the exercises, particularly the ones that are timed, athletes often perform sloppy technique as they start to fatigue. Poor technique leads to joints that creak!
If you are suffering wrist pain, the chances are that you’ve aggravated it with repetitive strain on the joints. This may be also due to an inflamed tendon underneath or dorsal impingement syndrome (due to hyper-extension under heavy loads). My best recommendation is to stop aggravating it and rest it! It needs to heal and it won’t get better if you continue to wrist extend with load. If acute, ice/heat contrast and gentle mobility work may bring relief. If chronic, heat and mobility work will do the trick. It’s the last thing an avid athlete wants to hear, but rest is the best choice for faster healing. The body has an ability to heal itself but only provided you give it the due rest and care it needs, so start investing in your wellness today and good luck to all the competitors!