I stopped training martial arts training in 2001 after I broke my wrist in American Kenpo class. I didn't know I had broken it until several weeks later, when a doctor took an X-ray and saw the wrist was healing. I had "protected" it using the sort of wrist brace you use for carpal tunnel syndrome. The doctor said "that's going to hurt again in 10 or 15 years."
Here we are in 2017, and I don't want this old injury to hold me back! My family also has a history of developing arthritis in the fingers, so I am doing what I can to avoid that situation as well.
Earlier this year I felt wrist pain when doing Krav Maga striking drills, and finger pain doing Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. I decided to fight back with a multi-pronged approach. Let me share the drills I do to relieve martial arts wrist and finger pain!
1. Wrist strength. I was inspired by my StrongFirst training to focus first on wrist strength. When the muscles are weak, all that the body has left are the joints. Joints aren't meant to carry the loads intended for the muscles, so joint pain can be a sign that muscles needed to be strengthened.
To address the likelihood that the muscles supporting my wrist were weak, I bought a Sportneer Wrist and Strength Exerciser. The first two images below show how I position my arm to flex my wrist upwards, while the next two show how to flex downwards. It's important to work both directions under load. I do 10 contraction or extension reps per set, with 2 or 3 sets each day.
To work side-to-side motion, I use a light weight (5 pounds or less) and rotate the wrist back and forth in the other plane of motion.
2. Grip strength. I felt pain in the pinkie fingers after rolling in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, so I took the strength first approach to deal with that problem too. I'm using two devices, a Kootek Hand Grip Strengthener and a Gripmaster Hand Exerciser. I like the Kootek gripper because it is adjustable. The Gripmaster is only 5 lbs per finger, so I need to buy a new unit to increase the tension. However, I like the Gripmaster because I can isolate weak fingers, such as my pinkie.
Like the wrist drills, it's important to do "opening" drills, not just "closing" drills. I plan to add some finger expansion exercises to my routine using rubber bands. This will balance the closing strength that I am building.
I do 10 contraction or extension reps per set, with 2 or 3 sets each day.
3. Wrist protection. I still use wrist wraps when striking, as I described last year. I wear them 9 out of every 10 workouts or so. When I am striking but not wearing wraps, I pay extra attention to wrist position when making contact with the pads. I recommend this video by Shane Fazen with his tips for hitting the bag and avoiding wrist pain.
4. Wrist stretching. Students in today's Krav Maga Foundations seminar probably saw me sitting in a squat when drills were being introduced, holding my hands together in one of the two postures shown below. These are my go-to stretches. There are also a ton of great stretches in this Global Bodyweight Training video. I do these stretches whenever I think of them, throughout they day.
I also do some wrist twirling sequences, forwards and backwards, that I remember from Wing Chun class.
5. Kali drills. I need strong wrists and fingers for more than Krav striking or BJJ grips. Kali is both a driver and a solution. I use a single rattan stick in each hand. My main wrist drill involves rotating stick circles forwards and backwards, while keeping a fairly tight grip on the sticks. I am not simply touching my index finger to my thumb and twirling the stick in that space. I try to keep a full grip and rotate forwards and backwards. My right side (being my dominant hand) is much better than my left, but I'm making progress.
I recommend two videos for Kali drills. The first is more warm-up-oriented and features Shawn Kitzman. Start with Shawn's drills, then add examples such as these by Paul Ingram. Start slow! If you try to twirl as fast as Paul, you will hurt yourself.
Bonus 1. If there is one lesson I learned through months of physical training (PT) for my shoulder, it is to avoid exercising through pain. However, as you develop strength and flexibility, you can add an exercise that works the wrists: the Ground Force Method (GFM) Ground Force Exploration (GFE) sequence. Andrea U-Shi Chang taught me the GFE last year. I use this series as a BJJ warm-up because it takes place on the ground, and it incorporates strength and flexibility motions.
Bonus 2. My second bonus is simple: experiment with different finger and hand techniques when doing push-ups. For years, traditional flat-palm push-ups were tough for me, because of wrist pain. By default I did knuckle push-ups. Recently I've tried adding fingertip push-ups, which I learned from Annika Kahn from Jungshin Fitness.
Bonus 3. Finally, especially on the ground, protect your fingers. At BJJ class the other night, one of the instructors recommended using a closed fist when making contact with the mat. You should also be careful when sweeping, because you can end up with a wrist injury if you don't think of how it might move.
What sorts of exercises do you do to relieve wrist and finger pain?
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