Hands Down, The Easiest Fix – How I Stopped Wrist Pain During Exercise

A woman doing a pushup, showing how it can put pressure on the wrists.

I don’t often think about my wrist pain, outside of doing planks and push-ups. Every day at lunch, I meet my mom, mother-in-law and auntie-in-law for a quick 20-minute seniors Pilates session. I know that this can’t replace my own workouts, but I was seeing the benefits of these daily stretches and flexes. The big one: My wrists were no longer in pain from certain moves. I could focus on my core when doing planks. My push-ups were more powerful. I no longer cringed when thinking about the upcoming dips, burpees or arm balances – exercises known to aggravate wrist pain.

What was it about these Pilates workouts that had my wrists feeling stronger? I honestly had no clue. So, I reached out to YouTuber Rachel Lawrence, Pilates instructor behind the channel Girl With The Pilates Mat. (Her channel is all things Pilates, so it’s not only directed to seniors, that’s just one of her many, many playlists.) She says: “I have worked with people who’ve had wrist tendonitis, wrist strain as well as carpal tunnel syndrome.” Here’s what she said about my wrist pain fix and how her videos helped. 

Abs at any age? You bet.

Which moves specifically relieve wrist pain? Is it just the wrist rolls?

It’s not a simple answer, offers Lawrence. The parts of the body are all connected, and so is the joint between the hands and the arms. “There are indirect exercises that ease the muscles and joints connected to the wrists so those would be neck rolls, spinal rotation with hands behind the head fingers interlaced, chest stretches, shoulder circles and stretches through the arms,” she says. “Then the more targeted exercises are the wrist circles both inward and outward, the wrist flexion and extension and the movement of the fingers too.” In the videos, she does eight to 10 rep counts for the moves, following with another set following in the opposition direction if it applies. 

What causes wrist pain? 

“Indeed, the whole upper body is connected via bones, nerves, ligaments, muscles and tissues, so if we have poor posture, for example, from spending too much time sitting at a desk or over our tech devices, we will often find secondary issues because everything is connected,” she says, adding that neck pain, tight chest muscles, weak upper back muscles, arms and postural problems can affect wrists, too. “Wrists are also affected by holding fixed positions for too long- think of those hours you might spend at a computer holding a mouse. Your wrist isn’t doing very much but it remains tense whilst holding that position. All these issues tend to lead to stiffness, weakness and inflexibility in the joints. 

What are the Peloton yoga classes like? Check out our honest review.

What is the proper form for wrists with exercises like planks, push-ups and so on? 

Lawrence says the bodyweight over the wrists is the culprit for strain, but she stresses proper form is key. Here’s her check list: 

  • Hands should be directly under the shoulders for maximum stability
  • Core must be engaged to help support the movement, 
  • The upper back and shoulders must be ‘Set’ correctly. Which means shoulders down, upper back slightly extended, not rounded, that way you’re as stable as you can be. 

“The wrist is an often neglected joint in exercise, but for me as with all the joints in the body I think it’s important to keep them flexible, mobile and strong,” she says.

What are the signs I’m doing exercises wrong to compromise my wrists?

Pain, duh. “Now if the wrists hurt, the best thing to do is to modify by going onto your elbows,” says Lawrence. “If it hurts, there’s no point in pushing through. You’re better to build your upper body strength, modify the wrist movement and as you start to get stronger you can work towards weight bearing on the wrists.”

Don’t do squats without this piece of equipment. No regrets with this tool.

What about more advanced moves, like shoulder taps, bird dog? Can you do these moves with tight wrists? 

“My opinion as a Pilates instructor is: If it hurts, your body is not ready for it,” advises Lawrence. “We have plenty of ways in Pilates to adapt movements to build strength, flexibility and mobility. So, I wouldn’t recommend doing these if your wrists are painful.” Instead, she says to add wrist mobility exercises and stretches to your workout and/or warm-up (see first question). “Then see how you progress, give it a few weeks and try again.” And if that still doesn’t work, keep going the wrist exercises and try again in another few weeks. And build up to the advanced moves, starting with just one or two repetitions. “These things take time and there’s no need to rush yourself. It’s better to build strength slowly and stay injury free.”

Could wrist pain during exercise signify another issue? If so what kinds of issues? 

“If you’re worried about pain in your wrists, you should always consult a medical practitioner,” says Lawrence. “Always check with a medical professional if you have any concerns.” And if it’s during an exercise that the pain comes: “Stop whatever you are doing that is causing the pain immediately and rest, rest, rest those wrists. … As a Pilates expert, I can help you work with a condition, but you need to seek medical attention and a diagnosis if the pain is ongoing.”

I’m a fan of Pilates, as you can read from my Pilates challenge. So, I really shouldn’t be shocked that my wrist pain went away. And Lawrence agrees. “I will always recommend taking a regular Pilates session as part of your fitness training program. Low-impact strength and flexibility work, particularly Pilates, is the best way to keep a healthy, well-conditioned body,” she says. “I do Pilates daily to keep my body strong, and it hasn’t let me down in 22 years. I have more strength and flexibility than I did 20 years ago! Pilates really does work. It requires patience, attention to detail and concentration, all of these things are incredibly beneficial to the mind as well as the body.”