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.”
You… freaking… genius!
I have had wrist pain for the last 5-10 YEARS! I was rather athletic through college, and simply chalked it up to old injuries. It got so debilitating that I literally could not do more than two or three push-ups before I was nearly in tears.
And thanks to your guide, I just knocked out a dozen with barely an ache. Time will tell if this is a lasting solution, but if it stays this way… you have *literally* changed my life. Thank you!
I’m thrilled for you, Brian! Keep up the good work!
It may be tempting to push your rep count way up now that pain isn’t preventing you from realising your potential, but take it slow. The tissues that orchestrate that internal rotation need to time to “catch up” to the surrounding structures. Proceed with caution and I don’t see any reason that this new development shouldn’t be sustainable.
Thanks for reaching out!
This is awesome, I was pushing through so much unnecessary pain. Cheers!
Hey man, you’ve been a great help. Almost a year I haven’t been able to do push ups because of how my wrists felt while doing them. Thanks.
Fantastic, Alex. Keep up the good work.
Does this also affect pulling on weights (like for example, on a rowing machine) in any way? This definitely is helping with resting my weight on my wrists; I was actually doing this enough that my tissues are swelling right where this wrist bone pokes into my hand. But I’ve also been straining my wrists (mostly on the pinky side of my wrist) when I try to pull weight. Is this related in any way?
You are amazing! Instantly worked. Genius
I got into push up position and tried moving my knuckles inward and doing a push up. I just fell down. I couldn’t do it. I don’t even know if I’m doing the right thing. You should make another video of proper hand position while doing a push up. And in slow motion. With very specific narration. The knuckle position is so subtle and it’s hard to figure out how to do it and if I’m doing it right while I’m already supporting my body. Super slow-mo would help. Maybe.
I find that if I’m rotating my forearm inward my elbow sticks out to the side while going down for the pushup. How do you prevent that? Or should they be done that way.
I’m gonna toss a link here from a previous reader who had the same question. The solution worked for them, I hope it works for you, too!
I tried your technique but it didn’t seem to help. I have been using push-up bars for a while now because I find as soon as I go into the conventional push-up position I get pain through the middle of my wrists. The left seems to be more prominent.
The pain feels as though it is going through the middle of the carpals and up in to the metacarpals, changing the position like you suggested doesn’t seem to help. Just wondered if I am going to have to fork out for some Physio or if you can suggest anything!?
Stuart, I can probably talk you through this via Skype. I’ll send you an email to discuss in a bit.
This is Awesome!. works like a charm
Not sure if I am doing this right but is it normal to feel like my forearm/finger flexors are working a lot harder than usual?
absolutely! Take it slow and don’t push it. What you’re feeling is eccentric/isometric contraction of finger flexors. It’s a good thing, but you’re not used to it, and isometric contraction requires more energy.
I am almost in tears after reading this and am so excited to try your technique. I have thought the pain in my wrists was just my getting old and that there was nothing I could do! (as told to me by my doctor!) Thank you for the hope!
How is it going, Karen? Are you having any luck making the technique work for you?
Hi, I tried your sugestions. What I found is that it works surprisingly oposite for me! When I rotate nuckles inward (medially) it hurts even more :O. Im facing severe pain in neck / shoulder blade / upper and lower arm all the way to wrist. I had my shoulder dislocated few times, but doctor said that regarding MRI its healed all right and he dont suggest surgery. Also cervical spine is all righ. Im trying to do yoga every day, and still looking for solutions. Im self tought hobby artis and I really want to get back to drawing / painting so I have big motivation to fix it. Any ideas what can help me ? Is it opssible to have such a strong pain in wrist from shoulder ?
Dislocations have a lasting impact on how your nervous system perceives threat to a joint. I’m sure we can work out a solution.
Would you have time for a Skype chat?
kevin.smarterstrength is my Skype info.
This is so helpful! I get this pain for both push up and tricep dips using a chair. Changing my hand position has helped for push ups, but how would i change it for a tricep dip when i’m holding onto the edge of the chair?
Thanks for the tips – I look forward to trying them out. I’ve been having issues with my left wrist (I’m left handed) since around November, and now my right wrist is hurting as well since I’m sure it’s compensating for the left. The pain is mainly when my wrist is in the position you described, such as the pushup and tricep pushup. I think I’ve been carrying my kids incorrectly – at ages 3 and 1, there’s always one that wants to be held, and my wrist never seems to get a break – perhaps supporting their weight incorrectly with my wrist or hand? I exercise regularly and have been trying to use the TRX for pushups/triceps etc and avoid moves that involve the traditional plank position (instead going to my forearms), all this in an attempt to give my wrists a break, but there’s never a break from carrying the kids around. Any thoughts or tips regarding the best way to carry kids to help out the wrists?
I seem to only have pain in my right wrist when bearing weight. I also notice that I can’t straighten my right arm when I am in the push up position. Lastly, there is a terrible pain that radiates down to my index finger knuckle when bearing weight.
Wait, I forgot one thing, I have noticed my range of motion is very poor. I’m concerned because my doctor just dismissed what I was saying, telling me to wear a brace and rest my wrists as much as possible.
He following response is based on the assumption that you are right handed. If you’re not, let me know and I will revise.
I would need to see what he rest of your body is doing, Hannah, but with he info at hand, I’d say it’s likely that, without knowing it, you are keeping your thoracic spine in rotation to the right and over burdening the right hand. Try pushing the left shoulder slightly forward of the right and pointing the chest toward the left hand while in a weight bearing position. Does that have any effect on the pain?
Thanks for the reply. I tried getting into position, and the pain was there before bearing hardly any weight. And yes, I am right handed. I noticed that after adjusting my knuckles as suggested in the video, the pain in my index finger gets worse. I wonder if there is an underlying tendon issue? I am really disappointed (not in your advice, as it seems to work for a lot of people), because I really want to be able to do exercises and stretches that require me to bear weight on my hands, but I can’t find a solution, and my doctor is of little to no help at all.
As I mentioned in my earlier comment, I am unable to straighten my right arm when in a push up position, but I also noticed that my arm turns outward a little, exposing my inner elbow, and I can’t seem to correct that. My left arm doesn’t do that.
Maybe I can send you a picture of what is happening?
Please do! That will certainly help come up with some other strategies.
Okay, I managed to snap a picture, but not sure how to send it to you. It doesn’t show up in a picture as well as I had hoped it would, because it’s pretty obvious to me.
Send it to my email: kevin-at-reembody-dot-me
tnks very much hope this works for me ! after i finsh doin push when i rotate my wrist it hurts in between the 2 bones! even after doing pull ups!
and! when i rotate wrist i hear a click sound each an every time is it a gud or a bad sign ??
cn u guys plss tell any tips to strenghten my wrist for playing arm wrestling?? i am very much intrested in!
Hi Kevin, I have had issues with my wrists for years and I’m struggling to maintain a push up position for even a few seconds without serious discomfort even after trying this technique. I am an otherwise fit 26 year old and I am a pianist but keep active playing soccer and tennis. I have pain as soon as I put pressure on them (both hands) and if I had to punch a punchbag and make a bad connection I get a shooting pain up my arm and lose the feeling in my hand for a few seconds (needless to say I haven’t punched a punchbag in a long time!) Worried it could be arthritis but I’m keen to get into DDP yoga but don’t see how I can if I can’t support myself on my wrists.
Hi Jonathan. I made my list video with you in mind!
Wow thats great,I`ve been struggling with sore wrists for years. Thanks!
I have hyperflexibility and can rotate my forearm from my shoulder… and I have excruciating pain when I do push ups/planks and my wrist is flexed… if I do knuckle planks/push ups I don’t have any pain, but I can’t maintain the pressure on my knuckles… any body hack tips for that?
I have a few questions: what is your dominant hand? What are you training for? Where, exactly, is the pain?
Hyper-flexibility usually comes at the expense of stability somewhere in the pattern of movement. With the answers to the above questions we should be able to narrow down the potential sources of instability and find a good hack.
Right hand dominant… Mostly yoga and general fitness as the exercises help strengthen my core for swimming and running… The pain is along the pinkie finger side of my wrist and lower arm but also, just to keep things interesting, across the top of my hand that shoots diagonally across from my outer wrist to my index finger…with some mild pain in my thumb region when I try to use the entire hand to stabilize… oh and it is worse in my right but both sides have it.
Jonathan, I did not enjoy pushups on my knuckles, either so I got two $5 tile floats from Home Depot. Hand weights would work too, though not quite as comfortable. Using them can help you keep up your strength while you figure out a hack with Kevin.
I got a problem when doing this but i think a little background information is needed in order for you to evaluate my situation.
I’ve always been able to do push ups as a teenager without problems doing many repetitions.
Over the past 5 years i stopped exercising and focused on playing guitar full time, with this came several injuries/complications in my left hand and shoulder (fretting hand).
One was a sharp stinging pain in the top of my left middle finger, usually only present when used, fretting guitar strings for example or playing keyboard.
This pain is to this day present varying in intensity and when it appears, but usually it always comes around during a session.
Another one is:
One morning, bending down to pick up my socks from the floor with my left hand i felt some thing happening in my shoulder, its been so long that its hard to describe the feeling but it felt like my shoulders disconnected from its original position slightly and has felt odd and foreign in comparison to my right shoulder.
Both of these things have been present for about 4-5 years and during this time, i’ve slowly felt a decrease in dexterity, precision, comfort and ease in addition to the pain in my middle finger and the disconnected feeling in my shoulder, both on the left side as i mentioned.
Ive been to many doctors and therapists where i underwent, Ergo-therapy, Ultrasound therapy, mostly doctors just didnt know what it could be and making vague diagnosis of carpal tunnel, tendonitis, checking me for arthritis etc.
One Doctor Seemed to be sure that my middle fingr pain had something to do with my fascia. That the fascia is constricted and choking my nerves
SO, let me finally come to my point.
Today i wanted to begin doing push ups again, and i was dumbfounded over why it was so hard, i know my muscles weren’t up to old standards but i just couldnt get a pain free push up to work after many tries i started googling and found your article.
I found that my right hand had no problem rotating its knuckles to the left but it seemed like i couldnt move my left knuckles or that my body didnt know how to, even though my right side clearly did. After forcing it to move somehow i got very sharp and last pains in my left hand, especially around the ball of my thumb and in my infamous middle finger.
Anyways, i dont know if i should keep trying this or if there are other problems in my arm/shoulder that are preventing access the mobility to my hand. If you have any thoughts on this, let me know.
Interesting situation. The solution is better presented in a little video. Let me see if I can put something together for you.
Hey, I made my last video with you in mind!
Awesome, it works great. Thank you
Big love for posting this explanation. I found that pushing up into wheel pose in yoga, I had to make sure my elbows were in or above my wrists and my index finger parallel with the long side of the mat. So what you say here makes sense to me. SADLY, this adjustment isn’t helping me at this point. My wrist pain seemed to start from an “upgrade” to my software that made me need to more aggressively and frequently click my mouse to get the software to respond. After some long days, my index finger could not push on anything without sharp pain and my wrist was too painful to do yoga on the thumb side of my wrist. It is not nervy. Just PAIN. After a day of work or an attempt to do yoga, it aches like a sore tooth. Saw my PT and she gave me stretches. But it has not improved in over three months. No arm balances. I am beyond sad about this as I am in yoga teacher training and can barely participate. If you had any other ideas to try, I’d be game.
I Watched your video and had a good read of your blog here.
Some months back I was told by my doctor that I may have carpal tunnel syndrome.
I noticed severe pain in my wrists and at night I would get dead arms and aching that gave me sleepless nights for around 8 weeks.
Previously I had decided to get fit and began exercising whilst also starting work as a builders labourer.
My doctor suggested that the combination of both was possibly over doing and may be the reason for carpal tunnel syndrome symptoms.
I then rested for 2 weeks, as per doctors instruction, in a bid to heal….
I then continued to labour AND exercise with one small adjustment.
I applied your teaching to the push up and I am yet to feel ANY wrist pain!!
It has been 4 weeks since I re-started my training.
Thank you for sharing a brilliant tip.
Chris, I’m so pleased that the video worked for you! Chronic pain can be so discouraging, I know, and it makes me very happy to know that I could help.
Have you told your doctor about your success internally rotating the wrist? Sometimes MD’s are not aware of these seemingly simple techniques for fitness and biomechanics; if you haven’t already, tell her about your results! The same trick may work for others as well.
Thanks for reading, and keep up the good work!
Sorry, but did not understand, Shall I rotate the knuckles right or left and how can it be done?
And how to heal the current sore in the wrest?
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