In 2020, The New York Times asked a thought-provoking question: Can you identify a person’s job just by studying their hands? A photo essay revealed that doctors, chefs, mechanics, meat packers, and farm owners have hands that are almost as unique as their fingerprints. If you’re among this workforce that relies heavily on fine motor skills, occupational therapists say that stretches for wrist mobility are one way to take care of the hard-working hands that help you provide for yourself and your family.
While the data is a little out of date, a 1995 survey of five accident and emergency departments found that wrist injuries accounted for almost 29 percent of all injuries, with 26 percent of these occurring in the workplace.
Stretches and mobility work are one key way to prevent the types of injuries that can sideline you from work for weeks—or months—at a time, according to Maryam Khaniyan, MOTR/L, clinic director of RET’s Kirkland Hand Therapy Clinic. “Wrist mobility is important in professions that require heavy or repetitive use of the hands and wrists on a daily basis, such as dentists, musicians, manual laborers, and athletes,” says Khaniyan. “The wrist, like any other joint, requires a certain amount of motion in order to properly function. A lack of mobility and strength can increase the risk for injury.”
An absence of wrist mobility can also prompt your body to overcompensate in other places, like your elbow or shoulder joint. “Let’s look at this as an example: When drinking coffee, to facilitate the tipping of your mug you have to radially deviate your wrist. When you are unable to move your wrist in that direction, then you will elevate your elbow, which in result increases shoulder motion,” explains Khaniyan. If this happens once or twice, it’s not big deal—but over time, this motion could wear down your shoulder joint.
So how do you know if your wrists and hands are in need of care? According to Gary Johnson, an occupational therapist and hand therapy services manager for Athletico, there are a few key “red flags” to look out for that indicate you need to schedule in some wrist stretches ASAP. “Pain, weakness, and altered sensation are all usually ‘warning signs’ that something is off,” he says. You should also watch out for any stiffness or pain when you flex and extend the hand, move the wrist from right to left, or turn the palm face up and face down. “It’s important to follow-up with your health-care provider or hand therapist if these symptoms continue. Screenings, examinations, and diagnostic imaging all may be used to determine the extent of the problem,” Johnson adds.
As for how often you should check in on your wrists, Khaniyan recommends taking frequent, short breaks throughout the work day if your job allows. (If not, after work is also a great option.) “Taking breaks and stretching before—and while—using the hands and wrists can help prevent strain. Working on wrist mobility on a daily basis can help improve flexibility, overall upper body strength and function, and can help people avoid wrist and hand injuries,” she says. It’s also a good idea to add wrist strengthening exercises to your normal resistance training to make your hands more resilient.
Now that you have the 411 on why you should take care of your wrists, you’re ready to join trainer Colette Dong of The Ness for a 10-minute mobility routine. All you need is—you guessed it—your hands.
10-minute stretches for wrist mobility
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