It doesn’t take much to understand the importance of protecting your wrists as an athlete. This is true for all other people who place their hand on the ground, including gymnasts and martial artists. In fact, almost every sport/activity that I know requires wrist use. And when you do anything in which you are on one hand only, it has to support your entire body weight.
In dancing, its not even the occasional 1.5 second (or less) one hand freeze that is the biggest problem. It is the constant twisting, shearing and high-impact force that we place on our wrists while doing most of our footwork, transitions power-moves, freezes, and other tricks. Our wrists are very important.
In this article we will discuss and demonstrate a few ideas in preventing injury to the wrists while you perform activities like dancing. Of course, anyone can take these tips and apply it to their own dance/sport/craft.
Remember: “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”.
1. Wrist Strength
Applicable especially to new dancers, but experienced ones as well.
Wrist strength is hard to measure. Some professionals use the amount of weight you can extend or curl at the wrist, or measure grip strength. All useful, but not too specific to breaking. While some people might suggest the length of time you can hold a handstand, that is more of an indicator of balance. Whatever way you look at things, the principles of strengthening muscles (progression or overload) are what they really are. So occasionally lifting some weights, or working on your grip strength, is always a good idea.
Your wrists will get stronger from a good overall strengthening program. (NOTE: I have to post a good overall program later, beyond the scope of this post; for now, do some pull-ups/chin-ups, squats, and push-ups, at least once a week, even if you don’t think you are weak, DO IT!).
If you think for some reason they are weak, do some wrist curls (for the wrist flexors) and extensions with your book bag. Once or twice a week, heavy enough that you can barely do 8-12 reps, for one set, two sets max. Do it slowly, 5 seconds up and 5 seconds down (no force on the joint). Once you can do 12 reps, add weight! Keep it simple, brief, and intense. Again… this is IF you think your wrists are weak.
And for those of you who think you are strong enough… you probably are, but you can still benefit from an occasional general strengthening program. Once you get strong enough to do something well, it does not mean you are no longer at risk of injury. In fact, it may become more likely. Why? Because over a long time of intense physical activity that is no longer progressive or challenging (you’re strong enough to do it well), all you have left is ‘wear and tear’… No strengthening, just the wear and tear. In fact, a lot of issues people attribute to aging are actually due to this. I’ll explain further in another post.
Its not enough to say “use it or lose it”; I would go farther in quoting Pat Riley: “if you’re not getting better, you’re getting worse”.
2. Wrist Flexibility
What I should say is: ‘Optimal Range of Motion’. Because remember, once you have as much as you need, any additional flexibility does not help!
I may be taking a wild guess, but I would assume most experienced dancers have no problem with wrist flexibility unless injured. If not, I don’t understand how you even can do a baby freeze. —>
You should have a little more than 90 degrees of extension and flexion of your wrist. (See pictures below). This flexibility should ideally be ‘active’, as in you can move your hand that far on its own. But passive range (how far you can push your hand painlessly) is fine. If not, work on stretching.
Warm up by moving wrist back and forth constantly for 30 seconds. Don’t roll. With arms extended forward, pull hand back into extension as far as possible without causing pain (slight discomfort is acceptable). Hold 10 seconds. Now stretch the other way (pull hand down into flexion). Now repeat each way for a total of 6 times, two minutes of stretching. Do this whole routine 2-3 times a day (spread it out). Once you have reached an ideal level of flexibility, stop stretching!
Supination and Pronation are the twisting movements at your wrist when your palms face up/forward, or down/backward, respectively. These do not usually require stretching unless injured in a particular way. Still, be mindful of how much your hands are twisting with your body weight on them.
Ulnar and Radial deviation are two more movements, that look like waving your hand without moving your forearm, ulnar would be moving in the direction of your pinky, radial in the direction of your thumb. Again, most likely do not require stretching unless injured.
Read also: Does Stretching Reduce Risk of Injuries?
3. Balance, Co-ordination, and Control
This comes from practicing the specific skills of your art-form. Break dancers and athletes all alike will get great at these things from practicing whatever they do in their craft. What’s important, however, is what skills you are practicing. Get your basics down! We know the importance of foundation artistically, but they are also important to avoid injury. If you can’t hold a decent hand stand, what are you doing practicing 1990′s? Also, there are certain essential skills that are important to avoid injury (like how to fall). I’ll post about these essential skills later as well.
For wrists specifically
Many footwork patterns and steps look better when you are up on the carpal padding of your hand, as opposed to being flat palmed. Some even practice being on their fingers. Obviously, the higher up, the less stability, the more chance of rolling your wrist/finger and getting a sprain that will take your wrist out of commission for at least a week. To decide whether you should go flat palmed for particular movements, I suggest the following two factors:
Read also: Best Carpal Tunnel Wrist Braces
You must be very careful about how much weight you are putting on your wrist/fingers when doing particular movements. Basically, the further away your body weight is from your supporting limb, the more strain on those limbs. Similarly, the farther away your feet are from your hands, the more weight your hands need to support.
So, the more spread out you are, the more you need your hand flat on the ground.
What is one of the key differences between walking and running, besides speed? Air time. When you are running, there is a brief moment in which you have NO limbs on the ground. When walking, at least one foot is touching the ground at all times. As you speed up, you start to get ‘air time’, and it becomes jogging. Impact increases, and so does need for support.
In breaking, when you do your footwork, you can categorize some of your steps as running steps vs. walking steps, based on similar principles. The faster the movement, the more ‘air time’, and the more support you need. It would be a good idea to practice your running steps with your wrist flat. Of course, with lots of practice, you can get away with doing very closed up running steps (like three steps or two steps, CC’s) without being flat palmed. But be careful with difficult transitions.
For some moves, decide based on how you are doing it. For sweeps, when doing them with two hands and close to your body, you can be high on your hands. But if you do them spread out wide, and on one hand, like going into a power move, you should be flat palmed.
For power moves, tricks and freezes, I recommend you go flat palmed for all of them.
And I’ll say it again: get your basics down before you work on difficult moves!
Read also: Best Women’s Shoes For Achilles Tendonitis
4. Body awareness
Body awareness comes with ‘getting used to’ moving in certain ways and the split second decisions you make, while processing how much space you have, what you have pulled off before, and what is realistic regarding your energy level. To get good at this, freestyle.
With wrists, there are no specific recommendations other than to be vigilant. You’re probably not as likely to swing your arm and hit something as you would with your foot doing a windmill. If you feel sore, tired, weak in the wrists from training a lot, just stop and take a break. Avoid over training.
5. Nutrition and overall good health
Of course, with all the repetitive wear and tear, the long hours of training, the exercise and strengthening, you are demanding quite a bit from your body (and mind). To combat inflammation, and promote optimal recovery, I suggest you watch what you eat, get good sleep, and avoid stress where you can. I know, easier said than done!
This is the kind of stuff that is often overlooked when considering the cause of overuse injuries, like tendonitis, bursitis, and in the wrists specifically, carpal tunnel syndrome.