If you strengthen your wrists you may be helping yourself more than you think. Wrist fractures are “sentinels” of bone fracture risk; in fact, having a low-trauma wrist fracture may be more important than a diagnosis of osteoporosis in determining risk for subsequent hip fracture.
It makes perfect sense — when we fall, the reflex to throw out our hands and take the impact on the wrists protects our hips from being injured far more seriously. As we get older, that reflex isn’t as quick, and thus we have greater frequency of hip rather than wrist fractures.
So how do you know if your wrists are strong enough to stop your fall? And if they’re not — what do you do about it?
Get a grip on your grip strength
To start, figure out how strong your grip is. Grip strength is a marker of overall muscle strength. As studies have shown, muscle weakness as measured by grip strength is a predictor of unhealthy outcomes including cardiovascular and metabolic diseases, disability and even early mortality (Correia Martins et al., 2018).
One sign that your grip may be getting weaker is if you notice that opening jars is getting a bit harder. My favorite tool for measuring grip strength is a simple hand held-dynamometer. Simply squeeze the handle of this device as strongly as you can to measure your grip strength. Grip strength norms by age have been well established, so it is easy to see how yours compare (Massey-Westropp et al., 2011).
Exercise to strengthen your wrists
If your wrists aren’t as strong as you’d like, there’s certainly much you can do to change that. But first, understand that dominance has a profound effect on strength of the wrist and the bone mineral density of the wrist and forearm.
You might want to jot down the grip strength difference between your dominant and non-dominant arm and then exercise and non-dominant arm specifically to bring it up to the same strength level as a dominant arm. After all, we might have to stop a fall with either wrist, so we want to have both wrists as strong as possible.
Here are some basic exercise principles to strengthen your wrists:
- The impact of exercise is “site-specific” — that is, if you strengthen the muscles around the wrist, you will strengthen the wrist. That means that you need to load, and thus strengthen, all the muscles around the wrist and arm.
- Simply doing one type of exercise, such as a wrist curl, isn’t going to cut it. It only exercises one set of muscles, so you need to include wrist exercises that involve a full range of motion of the hand and wrist. See our exercise graphic below for ideas!
- As with all exercises, start slow and build up. You do not want to overdo it.
Maintain a healthy skeleton
Of course, your wrists don’t exist by themselves, floating in midair — and anything you do to support your overall bone and body health will certainly help your wrists too. So in addition to wrist-strengthening exercises, you can also do full-body workouts to strengthen your muscles and bones as well as focus on getting the full suite of bone-building nutrients and alkaline diet that support better bones and a better body.
Your wrists are the first line of defense against a fall, so why not give them a helping hand?
Correia Martins A, Moreira J, Silva C, et al. Multifactorial Screening Tool for Determining Fall Risk in Community-Dwelling Adults Aged 50 Years or Over (FallSensing): Protocol for a Prospective Study. JMIR Res Protoc. 2018 Aug; 7(8): e10304. Published online 2018 Aug 2. doi: 10.2196/10304
Massy-Westropp NM, Gill TK, Taylor AW, Bohannon RW, Hill CL. Hand Grip Strength: age and gender stratified normative data in a population-based study. BMC Res Notes. 2011; 4: 127. Published online 2011 Apr 14. doi: 10.1186/1756-0500-4-127
I’m Dr. Susan Brown. I am a nutritionist, medical anthropologist, writer, and speaker. Get my free weekly newsletter here.