Prep And Recovery Exercises After Wrist Surgery

The need for wrist surgery can result from a number of causes ranging from a sports injury to carpal tunnel syndrome. It only takes a minute to realize how much you need the wrist joint to function properly in your daily life, and when surgery is needed, getting back in shape as soon as possible becomes a priority.

Be warned, however, that following surgery, you’ll need to wait approximately four to eight weeks before beginning therapeutic wrist exercises to speed your full recovery. You’ll need to consult with your surgeon first to ensure your wrist is stable enough for strengthening. Once you receive the okay, specific wrist exercises, like those that follow, can build strength, increase flexibility, and preserve and facilitate the wrist’s normal range of motion. In this article we’ll cover:

Carpal Tunnel Surgery Exercises

Carpal tunnel surgery involves the creating of an incision in the palm’s base and cutting the ligament located at the very top of the carpal tunnel itself. This procedure allows the tunnel to then expand. More involved procedures may also occur, depending on what your surgeon finds, and sutures will likely be removed within 9-14 days of the surgery. Exercises to do after Carpal Tunnel surgery include:

  • Wrist Flexion and Stretch: To limit or break up forming scar tissue, extend your affected arm directly out in front, with the palm down. Flex the wrist to a 90-degree angle. Use the fingers of your other hand to gently pull the recovering wrist back slightly. Hold for 30 seconds, then release. Repeat five times.
  • Finger-Tip Touch: Place your hand palm-side up and slightly separate the fingers. Touch the thumb to each of your four fingers individually, beginning with your index finger and proceeding to your pinky. Repeat the same motions in reverse. Repeat in each direction 3-5 times.

Wrist Tendonitis Exercises

Tendonitis often occurs in various parts of the body, including the wrist. Wrist tendonitis is most commonly an overuse injury, leading to the swelling of tendons connecting muscles to the wrist bone. This inflammation of the connective tissues known as flexible tendons can also lead to pain. Exercises for wrist tendonitis include:

  • Wrist Flexion and Extension: With your forearm resting on a table, let your affected wrist and hand extend beyond the surface with your palm down. Bend at the wrist and let your hand move upward. Close into a fist, lower the hand and relax your fingers, letting them hang down loosely. Hold each of these positions for 5-7 seconds before releasing. Repeat 8 to 12 times.
  • Hand Flips: Sit with feet flat on the floor. Place the forearm of your affected wrist on top of your thigh, with the palm down. Flip the hand over, resting the back of it on your thigh, with the palm facing up. Alternate between these two positions (palm down, palm up) while keeping your forearm resting on your thigh. Repeat 8-12 times.
  • Wrist Radial & Ulnar Deviation: Stretch your affected hand out in front of your body with the palm facing down. Slowly bend the wrist sideways, to the right, as far as you can. Hold for six seconds, then return to center. Bend to the left, and hold for six seconds before returning again to center. Repeat this 8-12 times for each side.

Forearm Extensor Exercises

By exercising your forearms, you can increase your grip and also safely extend and stabilize the wrist. The forearm extensors help with this action, working with the muscles in the forearm to flex the wrist.

Reverse Curls: While standing, hold a lightweight dumbbell in each hand. Extend both arms down in front of you, with palms facing the body. Slowly bend the arms, curling forearms up toward your shoulders. Slowly lower down and repeat.

Wrist Extensions: While seated, rest your forearms on your thighs. Grasp a lightweight dumbbell with both hands, palms down. Let your hands hang loosely over your knees. Extend your wrists and bring your hands up toward your face but without lifting your forearms off the thighs. Release. Build up to 8-12 reps.

De Quervain’s Tenosynovitis Exercises

A common type affecting the wrist and hand is De Quervain’s tenosynovitis which involves the covering of the tendon located on the thumb side. Exercises for this type of tendonitis include:

  • Thumb Lifts: Place your hand, palm up, on a flat surface. Move the thumb tip to the base of the fourth finger. Lift the thumb straight up and over, tapping it back on the surface. Then, return to the base of the fourth finger. Continue this motion 8-12 times. You should feel a stretch across your palm and the back of your thumb.
  • Thumb Bends: Use your fingers to grasp the thumb of your affected hand, tucking it into your palm. Gently bend the wrist toward your little finger. A stretch should occur along the thumb’s base. Hold 30 seconds and release. Repeat three times.

Tennis Ball Exercises

Tennis balls can be valuable tools for exercising, especially when it comes to the hands and wrists.

  • Tennis Ball Squeeze: Grasp a tennis ball in the palm of your hand. Begin squeezing it as hard as you can without pain. If you begin to feel discomfort, ease back. At the point where you can squeeze the tennis ball the hardest, hold for five seconds, then release. Repeat 10 times, three times a day.
  • Hand Rolling: Place your tennis ball on a flat surface and your palm on top of it. Roll the ball around, making up and down and circular motions. Continue for up to one minute.

Supination vs. Pronation Arm

The terms supination and pronation describe the orientation, either up or down, of your hand or arm. A palm facing up is referred to as supinated. When the palm faces down, it is pronated.
While your wrist extends from your forearm, it’s not possible for it to be supinated or pronated all by itself. The movement comes from the forearm, not the wrist, so strengthening and stretching the forearm will also benefit the wrist.

Forearm Exercise Equipment to Use After Wrist Surgery

Keeping forearms strong can help improve your grip and also help prevent more wrist injuries from occurring, including fractures and tendon strains. It may even lessen the chances for carpal tunnel syndrome.
The best way to strengthen forearms is with exercise equipment, such as barbellsdumbbells, hand grips, wrist rollers, forearm weights, finger trainers, and kettlebells.

Here are some exercises to try.

Kettlebell Exercises for Arms

  • Forearm Curl: Kneel behind a bench, placing the backs of your forearms on the bench itself. Hold kettlebells in each hand, with wrists just off the edge. Curl upwards as far as you can without moving the forearms off the bench, squeezing the forearm flexors and holding for a few seconds before releasing all the way back down. Do this for 10-12 reps.
  • Wrist Radial Deviation: Hold a kettlebell in each hand, with arms straight down by your sides but slightly forward and palms facing your leg. Lock your elbows in place. Keep your arm as straight as you possibly can as you curl or flex only your wrist inward (or upward) towards your body. Release and repeat for 12-15 reps.

Arm Exercises for Bat Wings

  • Triceps Pushup: Lower down to plank position, remaining on your knees (for more protection of the wrist). Position your hands under your chest and turn them inward, with your fingers forming a triangle. Keeping your core engaged, slowly lower down to the floor, with your body in a straight line. Push back up, squeezing arm and midback muscles. Repeat 8-12 times.
  • Overhead Triceps Extension: Hold a dumbbell in one hand. Stretch the arm straight up above your head and bend it so the dumbbell settles just behind your head. Keep the elbow tucked close against your ear and extend the arm straight up, then fold it back down in a slow controlled movement. Repeat 8-12 times on each side.


How soon can I exercise after wrist surgery?

Following wrist surgery, you need to follow your doctor’s instructions concerning exercise. Usually, you can begin 4-8 weeks after the surgery, and this may involve meeting with a physical therapist to help build strength, improve flexibility, and increase the range of motion.

What can you not do after wrist surgery?

After wrist surgery, you need to avoid overexertion, strength training, and weightlifting. Your doctor may provide you with an additional list of what not to do and for how long.

Should I move my fingers following wrist surgery?

You can move your fingers after wrist surgery, but do so gently at first. Follow your doctor’s recommendations. In most circumstances, you will be directed to move the thumb across your hand towards the little finger, then back again as a rehabilitation exercise. This movement will help limit internal scarring.

How long does stiffness last after wrist surgery?

Stiffness following wrist surgery is common, and can last up to three months or more.

How long are fingers swollen after wrist surgery?

Swelling following wrist surgery will typically last approximately one week or less.

Motion Is Lotion

Injuries equal time away from working out, which we all know is not a good thing!

The sooner you learn to get over minor injuries like we’re sprains and arm pain, the sooner you can get back at it.

Learn to heal your body and its parts and learn to understand the difference between muscle pains, joint pains, and ligament pain. In the long run it will serve you well!

See you in the gym!

About the author
Jason Hughes
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