Currently sidelined by a painful wrist issue? From on-the-field work to weight room exercises, healthy wrists are crucial for athletes. (See Get Healthy Faster With Three Injury Recovery Tips.)
Below are general wrist rehab guidelines to follow immediately after an injury to reduce inflammation and soreness from a sprain or carpal tunnel syndrome, as well as some dynamic rest exercises to maintain fitness and eventual wrist-strengthening exercises to promote healing. Begin these only after your school athletic trainer or medical professional determines the nature and severity of your wrist problem.
Rest It, Ice It and Elevate It
The standard treatment for many injuries is still the best. Start with rest—non-movement of the damaged joint, bone, tendon or muscle—and apply ice for 10 to 15 minutes, on and off. During the first 48 hours after injury, do this between five to 10 times while elevating the wrist above the heart to minimize swelling and discomfort.
Alternative treatment: place the injured wrist in a bucket of ice water for just a few minutes (as many as you can tolerate), followed by five to 10 minutes of rest. Repeat five to 10 more times during the first two days following the injury.
Applying a brace around the wrist provides stability, limits mobility and allows damaged tissue to heal.
After the first two days of ice treatments, apply moist heat packs, or towels dipped in Epsom salts and warm water, around the wrist three to five times for two days to further encourage healing and circulation around the joint. (Check out Should You Ice or Heat That Injury?)
Employ Dynamic Rest
While rehabilitating a wrist injury, it’s important to maintain conditioning with anaerobic (resistance training) and aerobic (endurance training) exercise. Exercise also produces mood-enhancing natural chemicals (endorphins), so you remain upbeat during the healing process and avoid discouragement or depression.
Do dumbbell wrist strengthening exercises such as One-Arm Rows and One-Arm Overhead Presses for the non-injured wrist; lower-body movements like bodyweight Lunges, Squats and Step-Ups; and core exercises like Crunches and Seated Twists with arms folded across chest.
Don’t Overlook Sleep and Nutrition
It always bears repeating that getting passive rest and consuming nutrient-dense anti-inflammatory foods and beverages enhance recovery. Adequate bone- and muscle-building foods/beverages and lean protein sources aid tissue and tendon repair around the injured joint or bone.
Dehydration promotes inflammation, so make sure you’re drinking ample amounts of water and other beverages such as milk and decaffeinated black or green tea during rehabilitation to accelerate healing.
Start Gentle Wrist-Strengthening Motions
After about five to seven days of rehabbing the injury, try gentle movements (without weights) such as wrist pronation and supination, flexion and extension (sets and reps of 2×5 per movement). Stop if pain lingers and try again the next day.
Gradually Increase Resistance
Once you experience no pain with bodyweight-only wrist motions, try using light resistance (one to three pounds) such as a can, book or dumbbell, and repeat the wrist pronation, supination, flexion and extension motions (same sets and reps).
In the following days and weeks, gradually increase the resistance and add wrist rolling flexion and extension exercises (e.g., attaching a five- to ten-pound plate to a rope or chain around a bar).