Wrist Pain: Is it my Forearm?
Walking into a crossfit gym for the first time can trigger a wide range of emotions. Excitement, anxiety and, potentially, mild regret as you stand there watching the current class splash in pools of their own sweat and release guttural noises while throwing heavy things in the air. You’re in too deep to leave, and so you make it through your first workout, exhausted yet invigorated. This is the typical story of the crossfit rookie. Regardless of fitness level, the beginner is new to many of the programmed movements and, in turn, will be adding many stresses to their body that have never been experienced before. Not only are the movements new, but so are the body aches and pains that accompany them. Wrist pain, shoulder impingement, IT band tightness, low back & upper trap pain are a few of the most common issues seen in the beginner WOD-er. In the following paragraphs, we will aim to explain more about the trials and tribulations of each of these issues and how you, a rookie or a seasoned vet, can work to prevent and treat them.
As a crossfit athlete, you are almost guaranteed an experience with some type of wrist pain. This could range from a mild ache post-workout to an uglier, chronic pain. Unfortunately, it’s the nature of the beast as the majority of functional movements performed in the crossfit setting require repetitive or prolonged wrist extension. Pushups, ring dips, front squats, cleans, thrusters, overhead squats, handstands. The list could go on. Performing these movements under load and in a fatigued state can push the joint into hyperextension and increase the potential for ligament sprains, muscle strains and cartilage tears. These are more of the severe injuries you could encounter, and they are actually located at the wrist joint. However, the type of pain that most people experience in their wrists is actually referred pain from the forearm. If you thought the list of exercises that put the wrist into loaded extension was long, start thinking of all the times you are required to grip something during a typical 60 minute crossfit class. Yeah. Almost the entire time. Holding on to a bar, a weight, a rope, a rowing handle. Cue Popeye forearms. Even if you don’t leave the box unable to grip your blender bottle and car keys, the repetitive use of these muscles class after class, without any stretching or treatment, is enough to elicit wrist pain. For the most part, people neglect caring for their forearms not because they’re lazy, but because they don’t even realize their forearm muscles are sore until a practitioner digs into them with a thumb or soft tissue tool. It’s pretty common to think that if a joint hurts, then the problem must be there! Often, it’s not, and this is especially true with wrist pain. At least once a week, be sure to show your forearms some love in at least one of the ways listed below.
Here are some ways to keep the forearms & wrists happy:
- Wear wrist wraps! These are a low cost way to provide support to the joint & prevent wrist hyperextension
- Strengthen the wrists by improving grip strength. Farmer carries, pinch grip weight carries, loaded barbell holds, and timed hangs from pull-up bar are all great ways to do this.
- Stretch & roll-out the forearm compartments with a barbell after workouts
- Have a practitioner perform active release or instrument assisted soft tissue work on the forearms
If you can relate to any of the following statements, your wrist pain may be due to a more serious issue. You should seek out a medical provider for an exam and diagnosis.
- Stabbing, sharp, shooting pain at the wrist or hand
- Hearing a snap or pop, followed by pain
- Pain that doesn’t go away regardless of treatment or position
- Bruising at the wrist or hand
- Weak grip holding lighter objects like a coffee cup, or inability to grip a heavier object
Crossfit is notorious for high-rep overhead movements such as push press, overhead squats and handstand pushups. This can be great for the guns, but not so great for a shoulder that isn’t being mobilized properly after class or outside of the gym. Repetitive overhead movements without preventative shoulder care can put you at risk for shoulder impingement syndrome, an issue that causes inflammation and micro-tearing of the rotator cuff muscles. The tendons in the shoulder can then be pinched under the acromion process of the scapula, causing pain and limiting range of motion. The first step in preventing this problem is to ensure you are properly warmed up and increasing the load on the shoulder at an appropriate pace. Addition of weight to movements should be done gradually, and when choosing a weight for the WOD, a load that is suitable to your skill level should be used. If you’re not sure what you should use, ask your coach. At the same time, listen to your body, and if you begin to lose proper form or if movement becomes unstable, take a quick rest before continuing. The second way to prevent shoulder pain is to take care of them after class! Stretch & use a lacrosse ball on the muscles of the upper back, pecs and arms. Tightness in any of these regions can pull the shoulder out of ideal alignment. You should also work to strengthen the muscles of the rotator cuff to create resilience. Finally, see your chiropractor at least once a month to ensure your body is moving properly and have any soft tissue issues addressed.
- Maintaining a proper, upright posture with shoulders back when sitting or working
- Using proper technique when lifting or performing exercises
- Strengthening the rotator cuff and upper back muscles
- Stretching the anterior shoulder and chest, neck and back muscles
- Regular chiropractic visits