Push-ups are probably one of the first exercises you learned to do in gym class in elementary school because they are a crucial self-weight exercise that develops upper body strength and can be performed anywhere, without any equipment.
If you’ve ever experienced wrist pain while performing push-ups, planks, or other exercises while keeping your hands on the floor, you may have grown accustomed to the pain or given up exercising altogether. However, there is a third choice: deal with the underlying issue. By doing so, you can get the benefits of these exercises without risking wrist injury.
This article discusses the most typical causes of wrist pain during push-ups, adjustments to relieve the pain, and training advice to maintain the health of your wrists over time.
Why is My Wrist Hurt When Push-Ups?
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Due to the median nerve’s passage through the wrist being compressed in carpal tunnel syndrome, pain is felt on the wrist and hand’s thumb side. The wrist has a small opening where the nerve travels, and the push-up position makes this opening even smaller. Pins and needles may also occur in the thumb side of the wrist, palm, and the first three fingers if this is the issue. It’s possible that your hand will start to feel weak.
Forearm muscles and hand bones are connected by tendon. They also pass through a narrow space on their way into the hand. Because of the narrowing, the tendons may rub against one another, resulting in discomfort and swelling. This is especially likely to happen if the muscles are tight or too weak for what you are trying to get them to do. DeQuervains Tenosynovitis is a condition that most frequently affects the tendons on the thumb side of the wrist.
Damage to the Triangular Fibrocartilage
On the little finger side of the wrist, there is a wedge-shaped piece of cartilage. It helps with shock absorption and the transfer of load in the wrist. The push-up position will be painful if this cartilage is damaged, which typically happens when there is weight through the wrist. Dynamic push-ups, such as those with a clap in between or a drop onto the hands, can tear the cartilage. When the cartilage tears, the wrist becomes unstable.
A ganglion is a pocket filled with fluid that surrounds a joint in a capsule. A ganglion can develop if the eight tiny bones that make up the wrist rub against each other frequently enough. When you drop your wrist down, they are most frequently found on the back of the wrist and, if they are particularly large, appear as a lumpy, round shape. A ganglion will become painful or may even form in the push-up position due to the compression of the wrist’s back. Even though ganglions are generally painless, any wrist position that compresses one can be uncomfortable. If they are a major problem, they can be drained, but they frequently come back.
When the ligaments, which connect bone to bone, are pulled or even torn, a wrist sprain results. A sudden injury, such as a fall or a forceful twist or pull on the hand, is usually the cause of a sprained wrist. Less commonly it can occur gradually if the wrist is held in an extreme position for a long period of time. As a result, the push-up position may be the actual source of the sprain and consequent pain, or it may hurt because of a prior injury. The push-up position compresses the ligaments on the back of the wrist and stretches those on the palm side.
How to Fix Wrist Pain When Push-Ups?
The forearm wall stretch can help you determine if you have tight wrist flexors. At shoulder height, place one palm flat on a wall, fingertips pointing down toward the ground. If you feel a stretch in this position, you could likely benefit from stretching both before exercise and on a daily basis.
- Example 1: With your palm facing up and your arm straight out in front of you, extend your wrist. When you feel a stretch down the underside of your forearm and the palm side of your wrist, use your other hand to gently pull your fingers back towards you.
- Example 2: Hold your arm out straight in front of you once more, this time pointing your palm down and letting your wrist hang downward. When the top of your wrist and forearm feel stretched, use your other hand to gently pull your fingers back towards you.
Ramp Up Slowly
Wrist pain often occurs when we attempt to do something we are not prepared for. To prevent injury, you must gradually increase the intensity of new exercises.
We can occasionally perform a movement once or twice, but we might not be able to do it repeatedly while working out. It’s important that we begin with movements and workloads that we know we can handle and gradually progress the exercise in a stepwise manner.
When learning a new movement, start out slowly by performing a few repetitions, then over the course of subsequent training sessions, gradually increase the reps. Or, start with a very light weight and gradually add more weight as you get stronger. A great way to avoid injuries from movements or activities is to prepare for them beforehand.
Raise Your Hands
There are many ways to cushion your hands, but they all reduce the amount of stress placed on your joints and how far you need to extend your wrists during exercise.
Try putting a small, folded hand towel or other piece of fabric under your hands when exercising at home, underneath your palms (also known as the heels of your hands). You can also use a couch cushion or AIREX pad, according to Occhipinti.
Or, if you have access to a barbell and squat rack and want to work on pushup or plank exercises, secure the barbell low in the rack, put your hands on the bar, and perform your exercises from there. Because your hand is not lying flat on the ground, you can concentrate on keeping your wrist in a neutral position as opposed to extended.
Adjust Your Elbows
We frequently hyperextend the elbow when our wrists are extended for a long time (like when lying on the floor or another flat surface). This ends up putting more pressure on the wrists, specifically the eight small carpal bones. These bones are not intended to support the weight of our entire body, so we often just allow our weight to “rest” in the wrist joint by overextending the elbow and underusing the shoulder stabilizers.
Try locking and unlocking your elbows the next time you’re doing a pushup. The ideal position for straight-arm exercises is to have your elbow extended but not fully locked out. In the correct position, the folds of your elbows should face each other.
While you stretch one side of your wrist, you need to strengthen the other.
Occhipinti suggests exercises like wrist extension curls to achieve this, in which you hold light weights and draw the backs of your hands to the backs of your forearms.
You can also try resisted finger expansions, starting in a fist and extending your fingers as far as comfortable. Rubber bands, stretchy hair bands, or finger extension bands can all be used as resistance. The easiest option to use and the ones that won’t fall off your fingers in the middle of a rep are finger extension bands, which you can find online.
As you work on improving strength and mobility in your wrists, you can still get the benefits of doing pushups with these modifications, which are less stressful on the wrists.
Knuckle (or Handle) Pushup
Landicho recommends this variation if you’re unable to bear any weight on your hands. Both fists and handles keep your wrists in a neutral position which is less demanding than wrist extension.
How to Do it: Make fists and rest on your knuckles or hold onto a set of pushup handles while performing a standard pushup instead of placing your hands flat on the ground.
You might only need to adjust the angle of your wrists on the ground if you can perform a few pushups without experiencing pain but not an entire set. “The greater that angle is, the more stress is going to be on that joint. It’s not good or bad, but some people aren’t prepared for that yet,” says With a towel rolled up in your hand, you can lessen the angle by raising your hand a little bit off the ground. “It’s soft, so it allows you to press firmly into it without it being uncomfortable but it also decreases the amount of bend in the wrist joint,” he says.
How to Do it: With a towel rolled up under the heel of your hand, execute a standard pushup. It is possible to gradually reduce the roll until you can perform a pushup with your hands flat on the floor as your wrist extension and mobility improves over time, according to Landicho.
You can lighten the load on your wrists and soften the angle of wrist extension by performing a pushup with your hands on a bench. “That’s a great option for someone who has no pushup experience because we still want to emphasize maintaining a good plank position where your core is tight,” says Landicho. (To check your plank form, try a pillar bridge with Tonal Smart View enabled. If your hips are sagging and not staying level, Smart View will correct your form. You should also pay attention to this during pushups.)
How to Do it: With your legs extended behind you on the floor, place your hands at the edge of the bench so that they are slightly wider than your shoulders. Aiming for your fingertips with your chest, bend your elbows at a 45-degree angle from your body. Once your chest is just above the bench, press through your hands to push back up.
A doctor should be consulted if wrist pain doesn’t go away so they can determine the cause and offer a treatment plan. Your best bet for learning how to lessen wrist pain while performing push-ups is to speak with a physical therapist or hand and wrist specialist.