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Wrist Protection: Essential for Safe Weightlifting

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For individuals who lift weights, are there ways to protect the wrists and prevent injuries when lifting weights?

Wrist Protection: Essential for Safe Weightlifting

Wrist Protection

The wrists are complex joints. The wrists significantly contribute to stability and mobility when performing tasks or lifting weights. They provide mobility for movements using the hands and stability to carry and lift objects securely and safely (National Library of Medicine, 2024). Lifting weights is commonly performed to strengthen and stabilize the wrists; however, these movements can cause wrist pain and lead to injuries if not performed correctly. Wrist protection can keep wrists strong and healthy and is key to avoiding strains and injuries.

Wrist Strength

The wrist joints are set between the hand and forearm bones. Wrists are aligned in two rows of eight or nine total small bones/carpal bones and are connected to the arm and hand bones by ligaments, while tendons connect the surrounding muscles to the bones. Wrist joints are condyloid or modified ball and socket joints that assist with flexion, extension, abduction, and adduction movements. (National Library of Medicine. 2024) This means the wrists can move in all planes of motion:

  • Side to side
  • Up and down
  • Rotate

This provides a wide range of motion but can also cause excessive wear and tear and increase the risk of strain and injury. The muscles in the forearm and hand control finger movement necessary for gripping. These muscles and the tendons and ligaments involved run through the wrist. Strengthening the wrists will keep them mobile, help prevent injuries, and increase and maintain grip strength.  In a review on weightlifters and powerlifters that examined the types of injuries they sustain, wrist injuries were common, with muscle and tendon injuries being the most common among weightlifters. (Ulrika Aasa et al., 2017)

Protecting the Wrists

Wrist protection can use a multi-approach, which includes consistently increasing strength, mobility, and flexibility to improve health and prevent injuries. Before lifting or engaging in any new exercise, individuals should consult their primary healthcare provider, physical therapist, trainer, medical specialist, or sports chiropractor to see which exercises are safe and provide benefits based on injury history and current level of health.

Increase Mobility

Mobility allows the wrists to have a full range of motion while retaining the stability necessary for strength and durability. Lack of mobility in the wrist joint can cause stiffness and pain. Flexibility is connected to mobility, but being overly flexible and lacking stability can lead to injuries. To increase wrist mobility, perform exercises at least two to three times a week to improve range of motion with control and stability. Also, taking regular breaks throughout the day to rotate and circle the wrists and gently pull back on the fingers to stretch them will help relieve tension and stiffness that can cause mobility problems.

Warm-Up

Before working out, warm up the wrists and the rest of the body before working out. Start with light cardiovascular to get the synovial fluid in the joints circulating to lubricate the joints, allowing for smoother movement. For example, individuals can make fists, rotate their wrists, perform mobility exercises, flex and extend the wrists, and use one hand to pull back the fingers gently. Around 25% of sports injuries involve the hand or wrist. These include hyperextension injury, ligament tears, front-inside or thumb-side wrist pain from overuse injuries, extensor injuries, and others. (Daniel M. Avery 3rd et al., 2016)

Strengthening Exercises

Strong wrists are more stable, and strengthening them can provide wrist protection. Exercises that improve wrist strength include pull-ups, deadlifts, loaded carries, and Zottman curls. Grip strength is vital for performing daily tasks, healthy aging, and continued success with weightlifting. (Richard W. Bohannon 2019) For example, individuals who have difficulty increasing the weight on their deadlifts because the bar slips from their hands could have insufficient wrist and grip strength.

Wraps

Wrist wraps or grip-assisting products are worth considering for those with wrist issues or concerns. They can provide added external stability while lifting, reducing grip fatigue and strain on the ligaments and tendons. However, it is recommended not to rely on wraps as a cure-all measure and to focus on improving individual strength, mobility, and stability. A study on athletes with wrist injuries revealed that the injuries still occurred despite wraps being worn 34% of the time prior to the injury. Because most injured athletes did not use wraps, this pointed to potential preventative measures, but the experts agreed more research is needed. (Amr Tawfik et al., 2021)

Preventing Overuse Injuries

When an area of the body undergoes too many repetitive motions without proper rest, it becomes worn, strained, or inflamed faster, causing overuse injury. The reasons for overuse injuries are varied but include not varying workouts enough to rest the muscles and prevent strain. A research review on the prevalence of injuries in weightlifters found that 25% were due to overuse tendon injuries. (Ulrika Aasa et al., 2017) Preventing overuse can help avoid potential wrist problems.

Proper Form

Knowing how to perform movements correctly and using proper form during each workout/training session is essential for preventing injuries. A personal trainer, sports physiotherapist, or physical therapist can teach how to adjust grip or maintain correct form.

Be sure to see your provider for clearance before lifting or starting an exercise program. Injury Medical Chiropractic and Functional Medicine Clinic can advise on training and prehabilitation or make a referral if one is needed.


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References

Erwin, J., & Varacallo, M. (2024). Anatomy, Shoulder and Upper Limb, Wrist Joint. In StatPearls. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30521200

Aasa, U., Svartholm, I., Andersson, F., & Berglund, L. (2017). Injuries among weightlifters and powerlifters: a systematic review. British journal of sports medicine, 51(4), 211–219. doi.org/10.1136/bjsports-2016-096037

Avery, D. M., 3rd, Rodner, C. M., & Edgar, C. M. (2016). Sports-related wrist and hand injuries: a review. Journal of orthopaedic surgery and research, 11(1), 99. doi.org/10.1186/s13018-016-0432-8

Bohannon R. W. (2019). Grip Strength: An Indispensable Biomarker For Older Adults. Clinical interventions in aging, 14, 1681–1691. doi.org/10.2147/CIA.S194543

Tawfik, A., Katt, B. M., Sirch, F., Simon, M. E., Padua, F., Fletcher, D., Beredjiklian, P., & Nakashian, M. (2021). A Study on the Incidence of Hand or Wrist Injuries in CrossFit Athletes. Cureus, 13(3), e13818. doi.org/10.7759/cureus.13818

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The information herein on "Wrist Protection: Essential for Safe Weightlifting" is not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional or licensed physician and is not medical advice. We encourage you to make healthcare decisions based on your research and partnership with a qualified healthcare professional.

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