Wrist Pain Doing Push-Ups? Try These 4 Simple Modifications

If you have wrist pain during push-ups, there are modifications you can try.
Image Credit: nuiiko/iStock/GettyImages

Push-ups are meant to challenge your upper-body muscles, but they shouldn't be painful on your joints. The movement, intended to work your shoulders, arms, chest and core, according to the American Council on Exercise, can result in wrist pain for some.

If this sounds familiar, there's good news: You don't have to suffer through it or quit the exercise altogether. Especially because — when done correctly — push-ups are the perfect addition to you upper-body and body-weight workouts.

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"In our everyday lives, we are using the upper-body muscles worked in push-ups, ranging from the arms to core, to complete a number of daily tasks," says Joseph Allen, a Barry's instructor in New York. "Being able to move your own body weight can ultimately help you do everything from carry a back-pack to bringing groceries inside from your car."

There are a few different reasons you could be feeling off, including improper form and overuse. Overuse injuries in the muscles or joints, like tendonitis, usually occur due to repetitive movement, according to the Mayo Clinic. Here, we outline the different causes for this pain, and experts offer push-up modifications that will help you build essential strength.

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3 Potential Causes of Wrist Pain During Push-Ups

If you're experiencing wrist pain while doing push-ups, you may want to consult with a physical therapist. Although your discomfort could be a due to poor form versus something more chronic, like tendonitis, one thing is certain: If pain happens, stop the movement and seek advice.

1. Your wrists are in the wrong position.​ If your wrists are too far under your body, you could be putting excess pressure on them, says Dan Giordano, DPT, co-founder of Bespoke Treatments. Ideally, your wrists should be directly under your shoulders when you're at the top of your push-up, he says.

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2. You lack mobility in your wrists:​ The wrist is a joint intended to move in all different directions, Giordano says. So if you don't have enough mobility to get into the bottom position of a push-up, that can cause wrist pain. To help, integrate some wrist stretches into your warm-up.

3. You lack strength in your wrists:​ If you notice that your wrists start to fatigue right away, that could be an indication that you lack overall wrist strength, says Giordano. Focus on wrist-strengthening movements that also include the forearms, like a dumbbell reverse wrist curl.

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4 Ways to Modify a Push-Up for Wrist Pain

While you may feel some kind of way about the word "modification," Lindsey Lauten, a WW Digital 360 (D360) coach, says that there's no shame in a solid tweak.

"Push-up modifications are great as they can help you gradually increase your strength," she says. "Just like the formal movement, they are very effective at strengthening and toning the chest, triceps and shoulder muscles. Your modification can allow for a deeper, more controlled push-up, which in turn helps to safely build your strength over time."

Here, the experts weigh in on three of the most popular ways to safely modify the push-up exercise to specifically assist with wrist pain:

1. Knee Push-Up

  1. Kneel down, then lower your hands to the floor so you're in a half plank.
  2. Keeping your butt lifted and your core tight, bend your arms to lower your chest to the floor.
  3. Push back up.

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“I love the modified push-up; I do most of my push-ups from my knees,” says Lauten, who adds that another great way to build the strength necessary to execute a proper push-up is to add in chest presses or chest flyes to your routine.

2. Wall Push-Up

  1. Stand arm's distance from a sturdy wall with your feet under your hips.
  2. Place your palms on the wall shoulder-distance apart at shoulder height.
  3. Bend your elbows and bring your chest toward the wall. Keep your elbows pointing down, rather than out to the side.
  4. Press back to the starting position.

Tip

As you continue to do more push-ups, your muscles will grow increasingly tired. You want to make sure you’re bringing more oxygen into the bloodstream, so inhale as you bend your elbows and exhale as you straighten back to the starting position.

3. Push-Ups on Dumbbells or Parallettes

  1. Start kneeling behind a set of dumbbells or parallettes. Grab onto the handles, then set yourself up into a high plank.
  2. Bend your arms to lower your chest to the floor, keeping the elbows close to the body.
  3. Push back up.

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Holding onto something while doing push-up engages the muscles on both sides of the wrists, Giordano says. "This can create more stabilization so that you're activating the tissues around your hands."

4. Push-Ups With Closed Fists

  1. Start on all fours. Step your feet backward and one at a time, shift from hands flat on the floor to making closed fists.
  2. Bend your arms to lower your chest to the floor, keeping the elbows close to the body.
  3. Push back up.

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Although this method can be preferably for some, Giordano advises leaning into dumbbells or wall methods first. If need-be, Giordano recommends taping the wrists for added stability.

And if the weight is too much even in this position, modify the push-up, dropping your knees to the ground.

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