Much like roads and infrastructure demand maintenance and investment, your hands and wrists are “high traffic” parts of the body that are often neglected. Most of us type for hours every day and then use these parts of our body to grip handlebars, weights, and other implements in training. This might not seem like much in the moment, but over time these movements can contribute to cranky, sore, and swollen hands and wrists. It’s no wonder that more than eight million Americans suffer from carpal tunnel syndrome — and this is just one of many conditions that affect this part of the body.
It may not always be immediately obvious that you have a hand or wrist problem. If you’re a cyclist or runner, it’s probably your feet, calves, quads, and hamstrings that light up during and after a ride or run. If you’re a swimmer, your lats and shoulders might demand more immediate attention. As such, the hands and wrists are often an afterthought, and most people don’t know there’s an issue until their grip pumps out or their hands cramp up while driving or typing. Prevention, therefore, is key.
Prevent Injury With These Hand and Wrist Mobility Exercises
The aim of these exercises is to help you become a bit more proactive with your mobility work so you can get ahead of any hand and/or wrist issues before they become painful or even debilitating.
In full candor, I am not a physical therapist, but I learned each of these techniques from my Waterman 2.0 co-author Kelly Starrett, who has a doctorate in the discipline. So before you start considering cortisone shots, pricey PT visits, or even surgery, try the movements detailed below at least twice a week for a month to see if you can save yourself some time and money with good mobility work.
Some go-to tools you could use to mobilize your hands and wrists include:
- Lacrosse ball or Yoga Tune Up Therapy Ball
- Scraping tools like the MobilityWOD Leopard Paw or the Wave Tool
- Medium resistance band
- Place your left forearm on a counter or desk and turn your palm down
- Apply some lotion or a water-based lubricant to that forearm
- Pick up a scraper in your other hand
- Starting at the ball of muscle on the outside of your elbow, press down and slowly move the scraper down toward the back of your left hand
- Do 10 downward scrapes
- And then 10 upward scrapes
- Place the scraper a little further across your forearm (just below your elbow) and repeat the downward and upward scraping motion
- Keep going until you’ve scraped the whole outside of your forearm
- Turn your palm over and do the same on the inside of the forearm (making sure to apply lotion or a lubricant to the skin first)
- Repeat with the other arm. Make sure you scrape with light pressure and stop if the skin gets too red or painful or if little bumps start to appear.
- Extend your left arm out in front of you with the palm facing down
- Place your right hand midway down the back of your left hand, and use it to push the wrist down until you feel a stretch in the top of your left forearm
- Making sure you keep both hands in place and your arm extended, hold the position for 10 to 20 seconds
- Relax for a few seconds and repeat three to five times
- Now turn your left palm upward and place your right hand halfway down the left palm
- Use your right hand to pull the left one back and down until you feel a stretch in your forearm
- Hold the position for 10 to 20 seconds, making sure to keep your hands in place and arm fully extended
- Relax for a few seconds and repeat three to five times
- Switch hands and repeat the sequence
- To increase the stimulus, do the same with one end of a resistance band looped around your active wrist (the one you’re mobilizing) and the other attached to an anchor point like a squat rack or bedpost
- Place a lacrosse ball or Yoga Tune Up Therapy Ball between your left forearm and a table, desk, or countertop, with your palm facing up
- Starting just below the elbow, slowly roll your forearm across the ball. If necessary, use your right hand to keep the ball from sliding out.
- Slowly move the ball down toward where your wrist meets your left hand
- Once you get to this spot, turn your forearm over and use your right hand to roll the ball across the underside of your left forearm
- Switch sides and repeat the sequence
- Apply lotion or a water-based lubricant to the fingers and thumb of your left hand
- Pick up your scraper in your right hand
- Starting with the base of your left thumb on the outside, slowly scrape up toward the tip of it 10 times
- Then scrape back down 10 times
- Repeat the sequence on the inside, top, and bottom of your thumb
- Move onto each finger of your left hand and do the same
- After you’re finished with the pinkie, apply lotion or lubricant to your right thumb and fingers and repeat the sequence
5. Palm Smash
- Open your left hand with the palm up, with the back of your hand resting on a pillow
- Place a lacrosse ball or Yoga Tune Up Therapy Ball at the base of it (just above the wrist)
- Slowly roll the ball up and down and side to side across your palm, taking more time to apply gentle pressure to any particularly sore spots
- Steadily move the ball up toward your fingers as you continue the slow rolling motion
- Switch sides
Spending 10 minutes a day on your general mobility is just about the best investment you can make in your performance and overall well-being. If your hands and wrists are a continual problem, you might need to devote most of your mobility time to them for a while. Be patient and remember that you can’t undo years of microtrauma overnight. But if you stick with it, the techniques above should start to unstick this tricky area, reduce pain and swelling, and restore full function and range of motion.