Think back to the last time you saw someone bust out a set of push-ups: what did they do when they were finished?
It’s such a common reaction that many yoga and Pilates classes now regularly include the cue to “shake out the wrists” after push ups, chaturanga, or arm balances, as though pain in the wrist joint was a perfectly normal part of these exercises.
And when, perhaps, you complained to a trainer or therapist about your wrist pain, maybe they told you it was a weakness issue. Just strengthen those wrists (whatever that means) and the pain will subside! Well, did it?
That, or they offered you a modification so that you didn’t have to worry about it, like bearing weight on your fists instead, or propped up on dumbbells. This will work in the moment, but it’s still predicated on the idea that the only thing you can do with aching wrists is try to ignore them.
Well, like the vast majority of joint aches you’ll ever experience, wrist pain during weight bearing is a simple, mechanical issue that’s actually pretty easy to fix.
Here’s your wrist in palmar flexion:
This is palmar extension, or dorsiflexion . . .
. . . which is, obviously, the position of your wrist while you’re doing a push up. What you might not know is that, what looks like a pretty straightforward hinge has a significant component of rotation. In particular, dorsiflexion of the wrist requires (or causes, depending on which direction the force is traveling) internal rotation, or pronation, of the forearm.
So, if your forearm isn’t rotating enough, your wrist isn’t dorsiflexing enough. And if your wrist isn’t dorsiflexing enough, bearing weight on it feels awful.
This is a human hand:
And these are the radius and scaphoid bones:
This is the same human hand from a viewing angle rotated roughly 90 degrees to the right:
Now, do you see that pointy bit at the end of the radius that looks kind of like an arrowhead pointing toward the fingers? Well, like any sharp, pokey thing, sticking it in the wrong place hurts.
And that’s why the scaphoid has a track built right into its contours that is perfectly tailored for the radius. Maybe you can see it there in the grooves etched into the bone. No?
What you also might notice is that the point of the radius isn’t, at the moment, directly pointing at the notch where it is so clearly intended to fit. Well, what would happen if you rotated that radius to the left a few degrees, you know, like in that video you just watched?
With that rotation comes the freedom to dorsiflex the wrist as far as you please. Without it, the radius—with its hooked, sharpened end—is left to grind the surrounding soft tissues into pulp, which is roughly as pleasant as it sounds.
What’s more, dorsiflexion of the wrist is mechanically similar to dorsiflexion of the ankle, in that it provides the initial leverage which drives upper-body strength. In addition to ridding yourself of that unpleasant stabbing sensation, you’ll be tapping into a whole new source of badass.
And we haven’t even talked about tendons or muscles yet! You can be sure, though, that their shape, position and function are all based on this structural relationship.
Be aware that, as you’re experimenting with this, a lot of new, interesting things will happen in the elbow and shoulder. Keep the focus on the wrist for a bit and just try to make things comfortable. Remember: one thing at a time! Feel free to share your experiences in the comments.
119 Responses to “Sore Wrists During Push ups? Let’s Fix That.”
Hello, I am a 17-year-old planning on joining the army soon but I’ve been trying fix my wrist pain for almost four years, with having no help from countless chiropractors, the pain still continues. I have trouble especially doing push ups, I can’t even properly flexion or extension, it almost feels jammed. I’m hoping you can help!
I had a wrist injury a few months back that I’m still trying to fix. It was caused my a heavy weight being dropped on my palm and hyperextending my wrist. I’ve been doing physical therapy and gained most of my mobility. However, when I try to put weight on my wrist there is a lot of pain on the back of the wrist–kind of like a pinched nerve. The pain also appears when I try to flex and extend my wrist past 90 degrees. Could you suggest any treatments?
The problem certainly stems from a loss of rotation between the hand and forearm. The direction of rotation needed will depend on whether it’s your dominant or non dominant hand. Can you tell me if it was your dominant or non-dominant hand that was injured?
It is my dominant hand which is my left.
The short answer is that your finger flexors are likely behaving short as a means of stabilizing your traumatized wrist. Introducing eccentric muscle contraction into the palm of the hand and pronation into the forearm should make the space you are looking for. I can talk you through this is an online session, if you like.
I would love to have this conversation with you as soon as your schedule allows you to.
Would you send me an email through the contact area of the website with your timezone and preferred schedule? I’ll make the necessary arrangements from there. 🙂
Hi! Thanks for your article. I’ve experienced worsening pain in my right wrist. It occurs on any weight baring movement or flexion of my wrist. Doctors say nothing wrong. I am no longer able to flex my wrist downwards past 45 degrees, and I can reach 90 degrees upwards but only with pain. Any ideas on what I can do to help? I’m military so if I can’t do press ups I won’t pass the physical assessments!
The short answer, Emily, is that your gripping muscles in your right hand are working over-time, making it difficult for your wrists, elbows and shoulders to rotate into the relationships that facilitate flexion/extension. Would you like to schedule a video chat so I can coach you through this problem? It’s not a difficult one to fix.
Thank you so much for your insightful article and video. I have had “bad wrists” since I was 12. Handstands and cartwheels would hurt them, as would pushups or simple things like squeezing cut oranges. I’ve just totally avoided doing anything that puts downward pressure on them since, I’m now 30. I would love to do yoga, or pushups, but it’s just been completely out of the question and no one has been able to help me. Your video made so much sense, however I still experience awful pain in my wrists when applying your technique. It feels to be right where the radius connects with the scaphoid as you described, and in the centre of my wrist as well. I was wondering what would you suggest for me to do from here?
Wow! I really can’t thank you enough for this! I’m significantly overweight, but have been enjoying yoga for several months now. It’s the only type of workout I’ve ever enjoyed so when my wrists became too painful to even buckle my seat belt in the car, I was devastated. I just finished a 45-minute Yoga For Weight Loss session while implementing this technique. I felt MUCH stronger and have zero pain! Thank you for taking the time to post this. I feel so relieved that I can now continue my journey to better health.
I’m thrilled I could help, Sheri. Keep up the good work.
My wrist pain is actually more intense when I put my wrist in the direction you describe. It seems like whenever my wrist is compressed against my forearm there is pain in my wrists. I started feeling the pain when I started doing ring exercise’s. Any time I bare my own weight with my wrists I get sharp pain, and I have to release from the rings very slowly, almost like I’m slowly releasing the tension I’ve created.
Tried this but still hurt. I actually felt it more painful trying to rotate the knuckles whilst bearing weight on it. Funny thing is its only my right wrist that gets the pain. Have always had bother with my right wrist ,,,not sure if my wrist just dont bend up enough,, although have felt some pain there too when bench pressing and sometimes that wrist will catch and click after benching. Not sure what answer is.
Great info. Helps a lot with the push ups. Any tips on barbell grip?
During overhead squats and power cleans the weight of the barbell still causes pain in the wrist. Thanks in advance.
I was doing pull ups (overhand wide) and something popped in my right wrist. I exercise regularly, and did nothing out of the ordinary. Ever since (4 days) my wrist has been sore, and I can’t put weight on it. I can do overhand pull ups, but doing them underhand hurts a lot. Push ups are completely out of the question. I’v had pain in my dominant (left) wrist before when putting weight on it, but a little fiddling/massaging would usually pop what ever was out back in, and no more pain. Well, I say “my dominant”. My right side is my strong side, but I’m ambidextrous, with a dominant left. I massaged my right hand, and tried to pop my wrist, but that only made it hurt worse. The pain is right dead center in my wrist where it meets my hand.
A reply would be much appreciated, but I don’t have Skype.
I have a problem not with the wrists but where my carpel tunnels were operated on. I think there is scar tissue there and when I do downward-facing dog my hands are so painful that I have to do it on my fists. I have the gloves from you with the padding and although they help a bit it is still painful. Is there any other way I can hold my hands in this position as I love yoga but this is spoiling it as we have to be in that position quite often. I would welcome your comments.
I tried internally rotating the knuckles as suggested but that seems to be EXACTLY the movement that hurts the most. It actually feels significantly less painful to have my knuckles externally rotated as I instinctively do to avoid the pain. And that is just from a hands and knees position, not even trying a push-up, as it already really increases the pain just from the starting position. Any idea why this might be?
Without doing a visual assessment, Sarah, my suspicion is that, when you internally rotate your knuckles, the anterior face (the “crook”) of your elbow also rotates internally. For the knuckles spiral to be successful, the rotation must essentially end at the wrist without mobilising the elbow.
I have the exact same problem. It hurts quite a lot when I move my knuckels inward, I tried keeping my elbows in place, but I’m not sure how to. do you have any tips? I’ve had wrist pain basically all my life but lately I try to avoid movements that hurt, maybe that’s why? I don’t know. If you have any ideas I would really love to hear them 🙂
Any methods on reversing already sharp aching wrists? As a climber its pretty important that i get them pain free again when pressure is applied.
Hello Kevin, I would like to ask you for help.
About 8 months ago I fell over during football match, then started to notice my wrist hurts when I flex it back or if I put pressure on it. (like doing push ups). It was not swollen, doctors told me it should be fine in few weeks. Tried ultrasound, magnetotherapy, acupuncture.. recently i had a consultation with physiotherapist – he recommended me to do push ups and put the stress right in the area, where it hurts the most and reportedly it should get better in 4 – 6 weeks.. Sounds a bit weird to me.. it has been a month since i practice that, and nothing really changes (at least it didnt get much worse..).
My symptoms are as follows: It only hurts bending my wrist back or trying to put presure on it – pushups etc. It is not swollen. THe pain is in my wrist and if you were to draw a line back from your first two fingers it would be right in line with it – the palm area below first two two fingers.
According to other comments almost think of you as a last chance to improve it.. Thank you very much in advance.
I don’t get it. The hand is in the same position on the floor, but you try to put inward rotational pressure on it?
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Great article! Kevin, I was hoping you can help me out a bit more with the wrist pain I have had for about 2 years now. When I put pressure on my palms – no matter whether I turn my forearms inwards or outwards – I feel a GREAT deal of pain throughout the top of my wrists. I am athletic and very active, and have continued going to the gym by just working around the pain (e.g., doing knuckle push ups, not doing bench press, wearing wrist braces, etc.). But the damage is getting worse. Doctors don’t seem to have a clue. Any ideas?
Hi Ari. I’m going to send you an email at email@example.com to see if we can connect on Skype. I’m sure we can make some progress on this.
Omgg I don’t feel my lungs collapsing with each push upp anymore after this trick. Andmy wrist the pain is gonee. Thank you soo much. I feel like I’m using my chest alot moree too!
Fantastic, Damien! Keep up the good work!
To me it almost makes it worse. I do yoga daily and the wrist pain was so fast to come on….. However I can not get rid of it… Ortho wants to cut into my wrists to relieve my nerves! No too excited about that suggestion. Can you help?
I’d certainly be willing to try, Kelly H. Find me on Skype at reembodyme and we’ll talk it over.
OMG, it worked!! It fucking worked!!!! Thank you so much!
Hi Kevin, thanks, you have really helped me discover the part of the problem. As I watch my knuckles turn so obviously outwards, it definitely hurts more. However, I have difficulty trying to make them turn inwards as my elbows bend in for the push up, as the bending makes weight go down onto the pinky fingers.
Would you like to have a brief Skype chat to see if we can uncover the problem, Esther? Find me at reembodyme.