3 Gentle Exercises for Nagging Wrist Pain

Take a mental inventory of everything you do each morning. Now picture doing those things with wrist pain, and you'll quickly realize this small part of your body can cause big problems. From getting dressed to steering your car, a painful wrist can significantly affect your day. Fortunately, there are exercises that can help.

Wrists pain from carpal tunnel syndrome can ruin your work day. (Image: aluxum/iStock/GettyImages)

Tip

Light range-of-motion and stability exercises can help reduce wrist pain caused by a wide variety of issues.

What Causes Wrist Pain?

The causes of wrist pain are almost as numerous as the activities affected by it. According to the Mayo Clinic, many instances of wrist pain occur after a sudden trauma like a fall onto an outstretched hand. This type of acute injury can lead to a wide variety of pain-causing conditions including a sprain, strain or wrist fracture. In cases like these, see your doctor first to ensure you get proper care.

If your symptoms come on more gradually, your wrist pain may be related to arthritis. Osteoarthritis can cause the cartilage that lines the wrist joint to deteriorate over time, though this mostly applies to people with a prior wrist injury. Rheumatoid arthritis, in which your immune system breaks down joint tissue throughout your body, can also lead to pain in the wrist area.

Additionally, several other unique conditions could be the cause. Carpal tunnel syndrome, in which the median nerve becomes irritated as it passes into the hand, can lead to wrist pain and numbness in the fingers. Fluid filled sacs, called ganglion cysts, may also develop on the top of your wrist (opposite your palm) and may be causing your symptoms.

Finally, repetitive sports or work activities can cause your wrist tendons to become sore and inflamed. Regardless of the cause, the exercises detailed below are a great starting point to help reduce the pain you are feeling.

1. Gentle Range-of-Motion Stretch

If you're suffering from wrist pain, start with some light range-of-motion exercises. As reported by Harvard Medical School, this technique can help relive stiffness, pain and swelling. It can also be especially helpful if you are experiencing osteoarthritis symptoms.

  1. Sit in a chair with your forearm on the chair's arm and your hand and wrist hanging off the end. If you want, roll up a small towel and place it under your forearm to make this more comfortable.
  2. Begin by moving your hand downward until you feel a light stretch on top of your wrist. Hold this position for 5 to 10 seconds and complete 10 repetitions.
  3. Next, reverse the movement and move your hand upward until you feel a pull on the bottom of your wrist. Complete the same amount of repetitions.
  4. Do this three times daily in each direction. When your pain begins to subside, you can add a small amount of pressure with your other hand to gently increase the stretch.

2. Resistance Band Exercise

Using a resistance band is an easy and convenient way to exercise your painful wrist. "It add stability and strength to your wrist without over-loading the joint," says Caitlin Murray, DPT, licensed athletic trainer for Athletico Physical Therapy in Chicago. "It can be especially helpful for people with arthritic wrists or with tendonitis."

  1. Sit in a chair with your arm resting on your leg and your palm hanging off the end of your knee facing downward.
  2. Secure a resistance band under your foot and hold onto the other end of it. The band should be tight enough to provide a moderate amount of resistance but loose enough to allow you to pull through your full range of motion.
  3. Slowly move your wrist upward toward the ceiling, then down toward the floor.
  4. After you've completed three sets of 10, turn your arm over and repeat the exercise with your palm facing up.
  5. Complete the exercise in each direction three times weekly.

3. Nerve Glide

If you have carpal tunnel syndrome, employing some nerve glides may help reduce the pain in your wrists and hands. Try this technique suggested by the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons to decrease the compression on your median nerve.

Slowly progress from one hand position to the next, trying to hold each one for three to seven seconds before moving on. During this exercise, it's OK to temporarily feel an increase in your symptoms.

  1. Form a fist with your thumb outside of your fingers as if you were going to punch someone.
  2. Then, straighten your fingers and thumb as though you were telling someone to stop.
  3. Next, extend your fingers and thumb backward towards your forearm.
  4. Following this, turn your hand so that your palm is facing upward and move your thumb away from your hand with your other hand.
  5. Finally, use your other hand to pull your thumb backward and gently stretch it.
  6. Complete 10 to 15 repetitions of this cycle each day and try to do this six to seven times weekly.

When to Call Your Doctor

In many instances, implementing the exercises listed above can help relieve your wrist pain. However, it might not be enough in certain cases. If your symptoms fail to improve or begin to worsen, it's important that you see your doctor.

According to Lagone Hospital at New York University, some wrist conditions may require additional treatments to properly relieve your soreness. These can include simple things like resting, icing or elevating your arm and modifying your workspace to be more ergonomically correct.

In other cases, treatments like prescription medication or anti-inflammatory injections may be necessary. Your physician may also recommend you attend formal physical therapy with a hand therapist so they can create a more customized program for you.

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