Joint Focus: Wrist
When you play sports, shake someone's hand, open a jar, or use the computer, everyday movements are made possible by your wrist joint. And because you repeat so many of these motions, it's not surprising that achy, sore wrists are a pretty common complaint. Luckily, there are simple ways you can prevent problems once you understand the most likely causes.
Structure and Function
Your wrist isn't a single joint. It's made up of the two bones of the forearm (the radius and ulna) and eight small carpal bones that are connected by multiple ligaments. Running through your wrist is a tube called the carpal tunnel, which houses tendons and nerves. The tendons glide through smooth sheaths called the tenosynovium. This allows your hand to rotate in a circle and move forward, backward, and side-to-side.
Common Types of Discomfort
As you get older, inflammation and loss of the cushioning cartilage inside your joints can make you susceptible to wrist problems. But repetitive motions such as typing, golf or playing tennis can damage your wrist at any age. Pain accompanied by bruising and swelling may be a sign of injury or fracture, so never ignore a wrist that looks misshapen or won't move normally. Here are the most common conditions.
- Tendonitis. Wrist tendonitis (itis means inflammation) is a repetitive motion injury that often occurs where the tendons cross each other or pass over a bone. The tendon sheath thickens, which constricts the gliding motion of the tendons and makes your wrist feel sore and achy.
- Sprains and strains. A sprain stretches or tears the wrist ligaments (the tough, fibrous tissue that controls motion around a joint) without breaking or cracking the bone. With a strain, it's the muscle fibers or tendons in the area surrounding the wrist that get stretched or torn.
- Fracture. A fractured or broken wrist means that you have a break or a crack in one or more of your wrist bones. This occurs most often from a fall that you literally break with your outstretched hand. Indications that you might have a broken bone include deformed joints, bruising, swelling, and the inability to move your wrist, hand, or a finger.
- Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. Although you may have heard that repetitive movements – such as working long hours at the computer – cause this painful condition, scientists say that's probably not the case. As an example, in a 2001 study by the Mayo Clinic, people who logged up to seven hours a day on the computer showed no increased risk of carpal tunnel syndrome.
Carpal tunnel syndrome appears to be the result of several factors that increase swelling and pressure on the carpal tunnel median nerve and tendons:
- Congenital predisposition: in some people, the tunnel is naturally smaller
- Trauma or injury that cause the wrist to swell
- Certain medical conditions
- Mechanical problems with the wrist joint
- Repeated use of drills and other vibrating hand tools
- Fluid retention in pregnancy or menopause
Symptoms include aching, burning, itching, numbness, or tingling in your palm and fingers and may extend up to your elbow. Your thumb muscle can become weak, making it difficult to grasp things. Women are more likely to develop the syndrome, probably because their carpal tunnels are smaller. Writer's cramp, in which repetitive activity causes aches and pressure in the fingers, wrist or forearm, is actually not a symptom of carpal tunnel syndrome.
- Ganglion Cyst. This benign fluid-filled cyst may look alarming but isn't dangerous. A ganglion cyst is a swelling that usually occurs on the back of the hand or wrist. Doctors generally take a watch and wait approach unless the cyst interferes with movement or is extremely uncomfortable.
Swelling and Inflammation
Call your doctor if you can't move your wrist, have severe swelling or are in serious pain. For moderate swelling try an ice pack; avoid heat since it can aggravate inflammation. Over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) may also provide relief.
Safe Ways To Build Strength
To build stronger wrists, you need to strengthen the surrounding muscles and tendons in your forearms and hands. Be careful not to overdo it!
- Simple stretches warm up your muscles and increase flexibility to help prevent strain and irritation. Circle your wrists slowly in both directions or keeping your arm straight use one hand to gently flex and extend the other hand.
- Wrist Curls: Holding a light dumbbell, lay your forearm on a table or other surface so that your wrist hangs off the edge. Curl the weight up toward you. Then flip your hands over and curl your wrists in the opposite direction.
- Grip Devices: Squeeze and release a grip ball or lever to increase hand and wrist endurance. It's a great way to keep your hand s busy (instead of eating!) while watching TV.
- Computer Skills: Experts recommend keeping your upper body 20 to 26 inches from your monitor. When typing, let your arms hang c omfortably at your sides with your wrists relaxed and elbows at a right angle.
- Consider a Wrist Brace if you need extra support, especially when playing tennis or other sports.
You can do even more for your joints by eating right and making sure you get enough vitamins and minerals. Schiff® Cal-Mag-Zinc provides vital nutrients for healthy bones, teeth, muscle function and more.
- Calcium is vital for building strong bones and teeth, muscle function, nerve transmission, and release of hormones and enzymes.
- Magnesium is crucial for energy metabolism, making new cells, activating B vitamins and relaxing your muscles. It helps maintain proper blood pressure, energy levels, cardiovascular function and nerve transmission.
- Vitamin D regulates calcium metabolism to help your bones absorb calcium and retain the calcium that's already in them. This is important because your bones lose calcium as you age.
- Zinc is an essential trace mineral necessary for the activity of more than 300 enzymes.
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