Male gymnasts encounter different stresses on their joints compared to their female counterparts due to differences in the events they compete. In men’s gymnastics, there are multiple events that place stress across the joints of the arm including the rings, high bar, parallel bars and pommel horse.
There is a large emphasis on upper extremity strength in male gymnasts as well as stability to be able to perform certain skills, like the Iron Cross on the rings or to perform multiple revolutions in a row on the pommel horse. There are also several instances where the male gymnast relies on his upper extremities to generate great power on the floor exercise and vault. In a study comparing injuries in male and female collegiate gymnasts, men suffered more hand and wrist injuries than their female counterparts.1
Types of Wrist Injuries for Male Gymnasts
- What is it: A wrist sprain occurs when there is excessive stretch on the ligaments that connect the forearm bones to the bones in the wrist and hand. In gymnasts, this can occur as a result of a fall onto the outstretched arm, a large twist of the wrist or an overstretch of the wrist.
- How to treat: Wrist sprains are initially treated with the RICE (rest, ice, compression, and elevation) method. Wrist braces can also be used to help protect the wrist and help it get rest to recover. After a wrist sprain, gymnasts will not be doing weight bearing on the hands, which includes no tumbling or hanging from bars. Physical therapy is also used to help recover athletes and help them get back to sport.
- How to prevent: Wrist sprains are difficult to prevent as they are usually a traumatic, one-time event. Athletes can help keep their wrists strong by performing wrist and forearm strengthening and stretching exercises as part of their normal strength and conditioning routine.
- What is it: Tendinitis is inflammation and irritation of the muscle tendons of the wrist. It can occur on the front or back side of the wrist. Symptoms include swelling, pain, tenderness and decreased movement of the wrist. Tendinitis is usually an overuse injury so it occurs after repetitive use and over time.
- How to treat: Treatment of tendinitis begins with RICE (rest, ice, compression, and elevation). Braces are often used to help the athlete rest the wrist and not use it. Physical therapy can also help to recover and decrease symptoms as well as decrease risk of re-injury.
- How to prevent: To prevent tendinitis, it is important to make sure the athlete has good flexibility of the wrist, as well as good strength of both the flexor tendons and extensor tendons in the wrist. Strengthening exercises should be performed by all gymnasts for their wrists due to the nature of the sport and weight bearing through the hands.
- What is it: Gymnast wrist describes a variety of overuse injuries that can occur in adolescent gymnasts. It is a combination of injuries to the bones and the ligaments of the wrist. Gymnast wrist occurs 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.
- How to treat: Treatment of gymnast wrist starts with activity modification and stopping weight bearing activities on the hands. Ice and anti-inflammatory medications can also help with symptom management of pain and swelling. Splinting is also done for gymnast wrist to prevent young athletes from 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.
- How to prevent: Prevention of gymnast wrist is focused on the amount of time spent practicing and limiting repetitions of skills in weight bearing positions.
- What is it: This relatively rare injury occurs in men’s gymnastics high bar event 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 or fracture.
- How to treat: 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.
- How to prevent: Grip lock is more frequent when the athlete is wearing worn or stretched out grips. Athletes should replace grips that are over worn or becoming too long.
Gymnast Strengthening for Wrists
Check out these wrist strengthening exercises targeted for gymnasts who weight bear on the hands and perform tumbling and hanging skills:
- Hand weight rolling to strengthen wrist rotation
- Wrist curls in flexion and extension with dumbbells or resistance bands
- Wrist supination/pronation with dumbbells
- Planks – can be performed statically or by adding movement such as lifting one arm or lifting one leg, plank walks across the floor, etc
- Handstands – can perform a progression by walking
- Wrist push up while on your hands/knees – start with your palms flat and push up onto your fingers keeping the fingers flat on the mat until your wrist is near a neutral position. This can be progressed to push up position on your knees and eventually into full push up position.
- Fingertip push up on your hands/knees – start with your palms flat and push through your fingertips to lift your palm off the ground. This can be progressed to push up position on your knees and eventually into full push up position.
Use of Wrist Guards
Many gymnasts choose to wear wrist guards as they are able to perform more advanced skills. While wrist guards help to protect the wrist, they are not a substitute for a good wrist strengthening program. In fact, prolonged use of wrist guards can weaken the muscles surrounding the wrist as these muscles no longer have to work as hard during sport activities. Gymnasts should always perform a good strength and conditioning program.
Request a free assessment at your closest Athletico clinic if you are experiencing any of these wrist injuries.
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The Athletico blog is an educational resource written by Athletico employees. Athletico bloggers are licensed professionals who abide by the code of ethics outlined by their respective professional associations. The content published in blog posts represents the opinion of the individual author based on their expertise and experience. The content provided in this blog is for informational purposes only, does not constitute medical advice and should not be relied on for making personal health decisions.
1. Westermann RW, Giblin M, Vaske A, Grosso K, Wolf BR. Evaluation of Men’s and Women’s Gymnastics Injuries: A 10-Year Observational Study. Sports Health. 2015;7(2):161-5.
2. Bezek EM, Vanheest AE, Hutchinson DT. Grip lock injury in male gymnasts. Sports Health. 2009;1(6):518-21.