Numerous gymnasts, male and female, especially those new to the sport, experience wrist pain during tumbling, handstands, handstand conditioning, presses, push-ups and even during stretching. The wrist is the smallest main joint in the body. When a gymnast’s full body weight, plus the added momentum and stress of tumbling, is added, it places significant stress on the wrist joints causing pain.
There are a number of commonly known causes and a number of remedies primarily relating to lack of flexibility and strength. Increasing wrist dorsiflexion to a minimum of 90 degrees or more is part of the solution. And strengthening muscles ligaments and tendons in and around the wrists is another part of the process
When gymnasts complain to their coach about wrist pain, many coaches just tell them to ignore the pain and work through it until their wrists are strong (and flexible?) enough.
But in actuality, wrist pain during weight bearing may just be a mechanical issue that that can be fixed with a minor mechanical fix.
Dorsiflexion (palmar extension)
The position of your wrist when you are tumbling is not just a mechanical hinge action, but it also has a significant component of rotation. Dorsiflexion of the wrist causes pronation (internal rotation) of the forearm. Holding a handstand or blocking for tumbling requires this same internal rotation.
If your wrist isnâ€™t dorsiflexing enough and your forearm isn’t rotating enough, gymnasts bearing weight on those wrist will feel pain if everything is not aligned correctly and they do not have sufficient strength and flexibiliy.
But there is another problem. These are the radius and scaphoid bones:
If you look at the end of the radius, you can see a pointy bone that looks kind of like an arrowhead pointing toward the hand. Like any sharp object, sticking it in the wrong place can cause pain.
The sharp scaphoid has a tracked groove built right into its contours that is perfectly designed to fit right into the radius. This picture sows how the point of the radius isnâ€™t directly pointing at the notch where it is so clearly intended to fit.
The solution is to rotate the radius just a few degrees to the left. That small bit of rotation allows the wrist the freedom to dorsiflex more and perhaps enough to solve the problem completely with just that change. Basically to get the correct and pain-free fit, you must rotate your knuckles towards the forefinger and thumb in the dorsiflex position. If you do not rotate the radius, its pointed, sharpened end will continue to dig into the surrounding soft tissues and the pain will continue..
Now gymnasts and coaches may just continue to use traditional repetitive stress methods and hope that the gymnast finds the correct position, but a little bit of knowledge might speed the process, allow for more rapid progress and save the gymnast some needless pain.
The correct and pain-free dorsiflexion of the wrist will provide the initial leverage during the tumbling blocking action, which will drive an acceleration of upper-body strength. And better hand/wrist placement encourages better elbow alignment and shoulder positioning. So not only will you be ridding yourself of pain, but by using your joints in the correct manner, you will be increasing your blocking power.
Like mastering any other change or body shaping, there is a process. Gymnasts should first experiment by kneeling and leaning weight forward onto their wrist and turning in the knuckles. As they successfully find the correct pain-free (and structurally sound) position, they can add weight and habituate the correct position by doing it in push-up position, tuck planche position, handstands and then in their tumbling. If done correctly, you get a forearm internal rotation that aligns the point of the radius into the notch and keeps proper elbow/shoulder/chest engagement.
I have always had a certain amount of wrist pain in the dorsiflexed position, and as i was personally
experimenting with this, there were some new and interesting feelings happening in the shoulders, elbow and forearm areas. But I found that if I concentrated on the knuckles and wrist and focused on tryng to make my wrists comfortable and pain-free, that worked the best. Remember, gymnastics training is all about progression. Focus on fixing just one thing at a time with the easiest progression and then add more weight onto the correct position.