Why Does My Wrist Hurt When I Do Gymnastics?

With all of the vaulting, handstands, and the wide variety of things that gymnasts do on the bars, getting their wrists hurt in some way is a fairly common thing to happen. In gymnastics, a gymnast can get injured in any part of the body depending on the situation. But, considering the varieties of exercises and their body movement pattern, one of the most common areas that are exposed and prone to injury remains the wrist.

There are any number of reasons why your wrist might be hurting you if you are a gymnast. Sometimes these are something as simple as a sprain, but other things could be much more serious such as a fractured bone.

Each year, a staggering number of gymnastics related injuries are reported with the seemingly increasing figure of reported cases stands at 86,000 or every given year. This, of course, is based on just cases that were reported, recorded and treated at in hospitals, doctors’ offices, clinics, and ambulatory surgery centers.

Types Of Wrist Injuries

The wrist is one part of the body that stands the chance of getting injured more often than any other part of the body due to repetitive physical stresses, overuse, and degenerative damage.

In addition, it is necessary to note that injuries that occur in the wrists and hands simply from overuse or simple stress are rarely severe, but if left untreated they can lead to chronic pain and bone possibly fractures. Wrist pain is a common injury due to the high repetition, forces, and pressure placed through the hands during skills.

A wrist injury can start with a gradual onset of pain that worsens with time and with the continuous placing of weight on the writs through the arms. Such minor pain as it might seem from the beginning, but if it left unchecked, can degenerate to a full-blown ligamentous and bone damage.

However, there are four main different wrist injuries that you are more likely to get more than anything else. While there are a number of other things that can happen, such as actually breaking your wrist or fracturing it, these are what you are most likely experiencing if your wrist is hurting.

1. Wrist Sprain

A wrist sprain occurs due to an excessive stretching of the ligaments that connect the forearm bones and the bones in the wrist and hand. This kind of wrist injury occurs mainly due to a fall with arm outstretched, a twist of the wrist in a wrong way, or when the wrist is overstretched or even simply overused.

On the other hand, a wrist sprain could be from a stretch or tiny tear in the fibers that are contained in the ligament or a complete tear through the ligament or through its attachment to the bone. Ligaments are strong, fibrous tissues that connect bones to other bones. The ligaments in the wrist help to keep the bones in proper position and stabilize the joint.

Depending on the degree of injury to the ligaments, sprains could be graded as:

  • Grade 1 sprain (mild). Normally at this stage, the ligaments are not torn yet but only stretched.
  • Grade 2 sprain (moderate). At this stage, the ligaments will experience some level of tear, which usually is accompanied by some loss of function.
  • Grade 3 sprain (severe). This is a severe stage of a sprain on the wrist that leads to a complete tear of the ligament and its detachment from the bone. Sometimes, tearing of the ligament from the bone might lead to chipping of the affected bone. This is called an avulsion fracture.

However, whether mild, moderate or severe, leaving a sprain alone without doing anything for it can pose a significant health risk if left unattended. Depending on the situation, it might be severe enough to require medical or surgical care.

Some of the other symptoms of a sprained wrist are: severe or mild pain, swelling around the injured area, bruising around the injured area, tenderness to touch, a feeling of popping or tearing inside the wrist, and even a feeling of hotness around the injured wrist.

Treating a wrist sprain depends upon the severity of the injury. Similarly, a fracture can be mistaken for a severe sprain which can be very dangerous to your health. If the injury is left untreated or is allowed to heal on its own, the fracture may not heal properly and can lead to a surgery that could have been avoided if you had been given the proper treatment early on.

Young gymnast on a horizontal bar

An evaluation of the injury by a qualified medical doctor is important, especially if what you think is a sprain fails to improve or respond to treatment. This is extremely important, particularly if the injury causes persistent wrist pain.

Carrying out a proper diagnosis and treatment of wrist injuries is necessary to avoid long-term problems, including chronic pain, stiffness, and arthritis. However, for mild cases of wrist sprains the RICE protocol can be used to help improve the situation before further treatment by a qualified medical doctor.

Rest: try as much as possible to rest and avoid using the affected wrist for at least 48 hours.

Ice: using a cold pack, apply ice immediately on the affected area to keep the swelling down. This should be done at intervals of 20 minutes. Also, avoid applying ice directly on the skin.

Compression: tie an elastic bandage around the affected wrist to reduce swelling. Avoid making the bandage too tight so as not to cut off your circulation.

Elevation: rest the arm in an elevated position above the level of the heart.

In order to try to avoid getting your wrists sprained there are a few things that you can do. The first one is that you should not attempt anything beyond what you know you can do. You can also wear a wrist guard or protective tape when you are training.

You should also be careful not to over-train and to give yourselves a break every now and then, which will not only be good for your wrists but the other parts of your body as well Finally, you should also do some wrist and forearm strengthening and stretching exercises.

2. Wrist Tendinitis

Wrist tendinitis is the inflammation and irritation of the muscle tendons found in the wrist areas. Depending on the situation, tendinitis injury can occur on the front or backside of the wrist. It is usually associated with swelling of the injured area, severe or mild pain, tenderness and decreased mobility of the affected wrist.

Tendinitis is usually an overuse injury so it occurs after repetitive use and over time. Tendons are thick, fibrous cords that connect muscles to bones. Inflammation could result when there is a sudden injury that can cause a sprain, or when there is a repetitive motion that causes the tendon to rub against the bone repeatedly.

Wrist tendinitis is not necessarily restricted to a single tendon or part of the wrist. The several parts that surround the wrist can as well be affected or injured because they are all full of tendons. Of course, these tendons are responsible for the complex and smooth movements we use in the wrist, hands, and fingers.

This is something that is most often caused by daily repetitive motions instead of sprains which is where something gets pulled. However, if you are ignoring a sprained wrist then you might very well with tendinitis on top of the sprain.

Most of the symptoms are the same, however, including pain, stiffness, tenderness, and soreness around the affected wrist, mild swelling of the affected area, a possible creaking noise when the wrist is moved, and weakness on the affected wrist when performing some tasks.

For treatment, you can begin with the same RICE protocol that you would use for a sprained wrist (rest, ice, compression, and elevation) to see if that will help before you do anything else. Treatment of wrist tendonitis is best done by the experts that are qualified medical doctors.

This is because the medical doctor can decide the best option to use after carrying out all the necessary evaluations and examinations on the affected wrist. Having said that, some of the common treatments to help provide succor to a patient suffering from the injury includes:

  • Gentle stretching of the affected wrist to improve mobility and flexibility.
  • Applying splints and bandages to help give the overworked tendon time to rest and heal.
  • By using nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.
  • Use corticosteroid injections to control inflammation.
  • Health and safety measures should be taken to fix the issues that lead to injury to avoid a reoccurrence.
  • For the worst case, surgical operations might be required to help correct the anomaly and return the affected wrist to its normal and optimal performance level.

3. Gymnast Wrist

Gymnast wrist is a variety of injuries that can occur in adolescent gymnasts due to an overuse of the wrist. It is an injury that affects the bones and the ligaments of the wrist at the same time. Gymnast wrist happens as a result of repetitive compressive forces applied across the wrist during the weight-bearing activities of gymnastics.

Gymnast wrist is commonly seen as a chronic stress fracture of the distal radius near the growth plate. Gymnast wrist injury irritates and causes inflammation on the growth plate at the end of the radius, where it connects to the hand to form the wrist. The growth plate here is soft and vulnerable to injury more than mature bones are.

This gymnast wrist injury is one that happens to growing gymnasts, normally during a period of increased of gymnastics activities, such as when a gymnast moves to a higher completive level or is doing a lot more competing than they are used to.

Some of the symptoms of gymnast wrist include but not limited to: wrist pain especially with impact activities, general swelling around the affected wrist, reduced motion at the affected wrist, and tenderness and soreness around the affected wrist.

There are a variety of things that you can do for this problem. The use of ice and anti-inflammatory medications are helpful to manage the symptom, pain, and swelling. Once again, the RICE method is one that you should definitely try.

You should also give your wrists a break, since a major way of treating gymnast wrist is the adjustment of activities, particularly the exercises that engage the use of the wrist. You should consider stopping weight-bearing activities on the hands altogether for at least a while.

This is because for the healing process to take place, a gymnast is recommended to rest from impact activities to allow the growth plate enough time to return to its normal anatomy. This time off can be as short as six weeks or as long as four to five months depending on the severity of the injury.

It is important to note that pushing through pain can worsen the situation and even lead to a lifetime injury at worst. In order to know just how long you should let your wrist rest, you should talk to a qualified physician to help with possible evaluation, treatment, and management of the injury.

In some cases, the physician might have to carry out surgery on the affected wrist to help correct the situation. In other cases though, splinting is something that is quite enough especially for younger athletes, splints can be used to immobilize the affected wrist to prevent further injury. Physical therapy can also help to strengthen the elbow, shoulder, and wrist of the gymnast to return them to sport once healing has occurred.

4. Grip Lock

Grip lock is relatively a rare injury that occurs the most often in the bar event. It happens when the grip that the athlete is wearing gets locked on to the bar and the gymnast’s body momentum keeps them moving over the locked hand resulting in wrist extensor muscle injury and it can even result in a fracture.

This kind of wrist injury is peculiar to gymnasts because they use grips, which is a handguard made of leather and with a dowel that is inserted toward the top, to help improve their grip strength while swinging on the bar.

During the routine the device can tighten and lock around the bar, this is known as grip lock too which is how this particular wrist injury gets its name. If this happens when you are on the bars, you should always assume that you ended up with more than a sprained wrist, even if that is all you feel at first.

The symptoms of grip lock include: acute pain and visible deformity of the forearm and wrist, swelling of the affected wrist, tenderness and soreness around the affected wrist, difficulty in moving the affected wrist, redness and hotness of the affected area, and in really bad situations there might even be a detachment of the wrist from the bone of the arm.

Treatment of grip lock depends on the actual injury sustained. A variety of extensor tendon injuries or possible fractures of the forearm can occur with grip lock. Treatment will be individualized to the athlete. It is best recommended to see a physician to help evaluate the injury and proffer the best form of treatment to avoid making anything worse than it already is.

In order to avoid getting grip lock there are a few things that you can do. The first thing you can do to help prevent grip lock, is to carry out a routine grip check to ascertain the condition of your grips to make sure that they are not too worn or anything.

You should replace grips that are over worn or becoming too long because grip lock injury is more frequent when an athlete is wearing a worn out or stretched out grips. Also, on this same not you do not want to borrow another gymnast’s grips if you can at all avoid it.

This is because their grips will not fit your hands the way that they are supposed to since when you break in a set of grips they mold themselves to your hands. This means that borrowed grips will be more likely to lock up on the bars.

How To Treat Different Wrist Injuries

When you even think that there might be something wrong with one or both of your wrists, it is very important that you actually do something about it instead of just brushing it off. If it turns out that you have one of the more serious types of wrist injuries, then the sooner you get it treated the better your chances will be that you will be able to make a full recovery.

This means going to the doctor and following their instructions on how to care for your wrist. In gymnastics, the general return to play principles is similar for all gymnast-related wrist injuries, including resolution of pain, restoration of normal wrist joint function, completion of a progressive rehabilitation program, and use of the proper technique.

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