What to Do About Sore Wrists

What to Do About Sore Wrists

Your wrists are like your refrigerator: you don’t pay attention to them until there’s a problem. That’s a mistake. Those humble joints between your hands and forearms are essential in many of the most common movements, from driving to tooth-brushing to egg-scrambling to texting. When you get sore wrists, life hurts.

Here’s how to stop sore wrist pain — and how to prevent it next time.

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Causes of Wrist Pain

Like any other joint in your body, your wrists are happiest in the Goldilocks zone: when you’re not using them too little or too much, but just right. Stiffness and inflammation may result from:

  • Overuse – These days, with most of us glued to our tap-texting-typing devices for eight or more hours a day, overuse is a likely cause of wrist pain.
  • Misuse – You can also damage your wrists acutely by forcing them into awkward positions during exercise, in a fall, or some other mishap.


Preventing Wrist Pain When Working Out

woman using push up bar | sore wrists

If you’re prone to sore wrists, you’re best off avoiding extreme joint angles, especially when you’re working out and exposing the joint to high compressive forces.

As much as possible, choose exercise variations that keep your wrists in a neutral (straight) position: neither flexed backward nor folded forward. Perform the push-up using push-up stands or hex dumbbells instead of placing your hands on the floor, for example. The straighter your wrists are, the less stress you’ll place on them.


Treating Wrist Pain

Jacked up your wrist? Here’s how you can respond:

  • Stop doing whatever caused the problem.
  • If your problem is severe, see a doctor. You may have to scale activity way back, reducing as much movement in your wrist joint as possible for up to two weeks (and maybe longer) before resuming light activity.
  • A splint — available at any drugstore — can help prevent painful, accidental movements. Your doctor will let you know if you need one.

You can address less severe sore wrists by making minor adjustments to activities that require wrist movement:

  • Switching from a mouse to a trackpad at work.
  • Buying an ergonomic keyboard.

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory meds (NSAIDS) like Advil can reduce inflammation and pain, but don’t pop them indiscriminately — they can reduce the severity of symptoms, but they won’t cure an injured wrist.


Stretches for Wrist Pain

The following moves can help relieve pain in your wrists. Use them whenever your wrists feel stiff or sore, or as part of a regular hand-and-wrist care program. Perform each stretch slowly at first, and stop the stretch if it makes the pain more acute.

1. Forearm self-massage

forearm self massage | sore wrists

  • From a sitting position, place your right forearm on a table, palm up.
  • With your left hand, massage the tissues along the outside and inside of your forearm, working from your elbow to a point about halfway down your forearm.
  • When you find a tender spot, apply gentle pressure, breathe deeply, and attempt to relax the tissues.
  • Continue massaging up and down for up to two minutes.

2. Forearm flexor stretch

forearm flexor | sore wrists

  • Interlace your fingers and extend your arms forward, turning your palms away from you.
  • Push your palms forward until you feel a stretch in the insides of your forearms, and hold for a two-count.
  • Bend your arms slightly, releasing the stretch.
  • Continue extending and bending your arms for 30-45 seconds.

3. Crossbow

  • Interlace your fingers and raise your elbows to chin height, forearms parallel to the floor.
  • Keeping your palms down, your fingers interlaced, and your elbows and hands at chin height, slide your palms forward and back as if along a high tabletop, feeling a mild stretch in the sides of your wrists as you do so.
  • Repeat for 15-25 seconds.

4. Flexion Stretch

andrea rogers demonstrating wrist flexion | sore wrists

  • Stand behind a table with your hands at your sides and rotate your arms so your palms face backward. You can also do this from a seated position by placing your hands on the floor.
  • From this position, place the backs of your hands on the table, shoulder-width apart.
  • Straighten your arms as much as possible.
  • Apply gentle pressure downwards until you feel a stretch in the backs of your forearms (if this is uncomfortable, place a folded towel on the table).
  • Keeping your arms straight, ease in and out of the stretch for 15-25 seconds.

5. Extension Stretch

andrea rogers demonstrating wrist extension | sore wrists

  • Place your palms flat on a table, fingers facing you, spread wide and shoulder-width apart. You can also do this from a seated position with your hands on the floor.
  • Stand so your shoulders are above your wrists.
  • Straighten — or attempt to straighten — your arms until you feel a stretch in the insides of your forearms.
  • Keeping your arms as straight as possible, ease in and out of the stretch for 15-25 seconds.


When to See a Doctor

See a doctor for wrist pain if:

  • You’ve experienced sudden and severe trauma from a fall or other accident.
  • There is noticeable swelling, numbness, or severe pain.
  • Pain persists or worsens, even after you stop doing the activities that caused the pain.
  • The pain is continuous, even when you’re not using your hand.
  • There is swelling, redness, or heat in the wrist, all of which indicate an infection.
Andrew Heffernan CSCS, GCFP


Andrew Heffernan, CSCS, GCFP is a fitness coach, Feldenkrais practitioner, and an award-winning health and fitness writer. His work appears regularly in Men's Health and Experience Life. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife and two children. Learn more at andrewheffernan.com