Getting injured is always frustrating for a number of reasons, including the fact that you can’t participate in your normal day-to-day activities, like working out. Recently I suffered a sprained wrist, and although it was pretty minor as injuries go, it did hamper my regular exercise routine. No longer was I able to do my standard practice of yoga, Pilates, or even some barre and weight lifting exercises. Putting any type of pressure on the wrist was not only painful but also greatly increased risk of further damage as well as extending the recovery time.
If you’ve also injured your wrist—whether it’s a sprain or something more serious like a fracture—the good news is there are still exercises you can do to both get the adrenaline rush you’re craving and strengthen your wrists so you can get back to your regular workout routine sooner rather than later.
Which workouts are safe to do for sore and sprained wrists?
“When you have sore or sprained wrists, it’s essential to choose workouts that don’t strain or worsen the injury,” Mauro S. Maietta, District Fitness Manager of Crunch Fitness, tells Lifehacker.
Every injury is different, and you should consult a medical professional for more specific advice—but here are some options that are usually safe to do as your wrists are recovering.
Range of motion exercises. “Gently move your wrists through their full range of motion without causing pain, since this can help prevent stiffness,” Maietta says. For example, bring your thumb and the rest of the fingers together. Then gently rotate your wrists to one side as far as you can comfortably go. Return and repeat on the other side. Do this for 30 seconds.
Isometric exercises. “Isometric exercises involve static muscle contractions without joint movement,” Maietta explains. “For example, lightly press your palms together, hold for a few seconds, and release. This can help strengthen wrist muscles without risking further injury. Additionally, make a fist, hold it for 30 seconds, rest, and do this again throughout the day.”
Finger and grip strengthening. “Exercises that focus on your fingers and grip can help indirectly strengthen your wrists.” For example, use soft resistance putty and hold the putty in your hand and squeeze it into your hand until your fingertips reach your palm, then release and play with the putty in your hand. Then squeeze again. Repeat for two or three minutes.
Low-impact cardio. “Engage in low-impact cardiovascular exercises like walking or stationary cycling to maintain overall fitness without putting stress on your wrists,” Maietta says.
What you should consider when it comes to working out with an injured wrist
Before resuming any exercise routine, Maietta says it’s essential to consult a healthcare provider, preferably one with expertise in sports medicine or orthopedics so they can assess the severity of your injury and provide tailored guidance. That being said, he shares the following advice.
Follow medical advice. “Adhere to your healthcare provider’s recommendations regarding activity restrictions, modifications, and the timeline for returning to exercise,” he says.
Use pain as a guide. “Pay close attention to pain. While some discomfort may be expected during rehabilitation, sharp or increasing pain is a sign that you’re pushing too hard,” Maietta explains. “Stop any exercise that causes pain.”
Warm up. “Prioritize a thorough warm-up and cool-down routine,” Maietta advises. “Gentle wrist stretches and range of motion exercises can be included. This helps prepare your body for exercise and reduces the risk of injury.”
Avoid high-impact activities. “Steer clear of activities that involve heavy wrist impact, such as push-ups, handstands, or boxing, as these can exacerbate wrist pain,” he says.
Rest and recovery. Maietta recommends allowing your wrists adequate time to recover between workouts as overtraining can hinder healing.
Communicate with trainers. “If you work with a fitness trainer, inform them about your wrist injury so they can adjust your workout plan accordingly,” Maietta says.
Be patient. Probably most importantly, Maietta says to remember that “the timeline for healing varies from person to person, so prioritize your wrist’s health during your recovery journey.”
How to modify common exercises for sore wrists
When you have sore or sprained wrists, you want to avoid activities that aggravate the pain, and prioritize activities that minimize wrist use. If you’re recovering enough to do most of your normal exercises, but still have some lingering soreness when you’re putting weight directly on your wrists, try these modifications:
Burpees: This weight-bearing exercise can be difficult to use with a wrist injury, but you can alleviate the pain by using a bench for an elevated burpee. Try do the exact same sequence as a regular burpee, but as you jump back into the push-up portion of the move, use an elevated surface like a waist-high bench to reduce the pressure on your wrists.
Pushups: Similarly to a burpee, you can reduce pressure on your wrists by keeping your hands elevated on a bench, by doing a knee push-up, or you can use a dumbbell under each shoulder and grasp the handles with your palms facing each other. Depending on your injury, you might also want to try different exercises instead, like a chest press or chest flies with dumbbells.
The straight-arm plank: This weight-bearing exercise can be modified by using your forearms or an elevated bench (like the examples above).
Tricep dips: You can take some pressure off your wrists in this weight-bearing move by pointing the fingers slightly outward, or by replacing the exercise with tricep kickbacks or overhead extension using dumbbells.
As I healed from my wrist injury, I found that by staying away from all weight-bearing activities, focusing on cardio and using modifications, such as the forearm plank, helped me stick to my workout routine much as possible without the added discomfort. Within two short weeks, I was back to my regular exercises.