The Fit Women's Guide to Hand Care

Check out the top five hand issues caused by exercise, how to prevent them, and recovery solutions to keep you in the weight room.
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You spend plenty of time stretching your back, legs and arms, but what about your hands? After all, without them, you’d be unable to lift weights in the first place, and just like any bodypart, your hands can incur an injury during lifting or exercise. Here are some of the most common issues you might get handed in the weight room — what they are, how they feel and how to prevent them.

A woman exercising with battleropes

Don't let your hands prevent you from lifting weights.

Tendonitis

Tendons are tough bands of fibrous connective tissue that secure muscle to bone, and constant repetitive movements — as well as lifting a weight that is too heavy — can break down and stress the tendons in your wrists and fingers, causing inflammation and pain. The good news is that tendonitis can be completely cured if treated immediately and properly.

Symptoms

Tightness, aching and/or burning, especially when gripping or holding heavy things — e.g., pretty much anything you’d find at the gym.

Prevention/Treatment

If you think you might have tendonitis, lift a little lighter for several weeks to allow your tissues to heal and see whether it resolves, and try some anti-inflammatories to help with the pain. If it persists, take a few weeks completely off from lifting and reassess or see your physician.

Strains

A strain is the stretching or tearing of a tendon (muscle to bone) and can happen when the weight or difficulty of a move outstrips your ability (for example, fingertip push-ups) or during explosive movements like plyometrics when done without a proper warm-up. In your hands, this would occur in the area where the muscles in your forearms connect to your fingers.

Symptoms

Prolonged pain, swelling, weakness and a change in the range of motion at a nearby joint, such as the wrist. You may even hear a “popping” noise when it happens.

Prevention/Treatment

To avoid incurring a strain, stop training when your hands become sore or tired, and always use a weight appropriate to your ability. You also can use a gyroball or tennis ball to help with your warm-up.

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Any and all repetitive movements that involve your wrists — from typing to weight training — can cause carpal tunnel syndrome. CTS occurs when the median nerve, which originates in the upper part of your arm and runs all the way down into the palm of your hand, becomes compressed, pinched or irritated.

Symptoms

Persistent hand and/or finger pain, tingling or numbness.

Prevention/Treatment

Avoid overextending your hands and wrists, especially under tension. Use acupressure points in your palms, thumbs and forearms to help relieve knots and tension, and avoid overextending your hands and wrists when possible. If you have a mild case of CTS, wear added support such as a wrist wrap and be extra-conscious of your warm-up.

Calluses

Calluses form when excessive pressure or friction against the same areas of your hand causes your skin to thicken and harden. This can happen with grip-intensive moves like pull-ups, heavy weightlifting in which you use a hook grip or repetitive use of sports equipment like golf clubs.

Symptoms

Thickened, hardened skin on your hands.

Prevention/Treatment

Wear gloves when lifting or playing sports to add cushioning between yourself and your equipment. Soak your hands in warm water and Epsom salts, use a pumice or exfoliant on calluses when they get too thick and moisturize them daily. However, resist picking calluses, which may cause the skin to grow back thicker.

Sprains

Ligaments connect bone to bone, and sprains occur when these ligaments are overstretched, either from poor form or using a weight that is too heavy. In your hands, this occurs most often where the base of your palm meets the underside of your wrist.

Symptoms

Pain, tenderness, swelling, bruising and/or decreased range of motion in your fingers and wrists.

Prevention/Treatment

Over-the-counter anti-inflammatories can help with pain and swelling, but so can a programming adjustment: While it may be tempting to jump up in weight as you get stronger at certain lifts, curb your enthusiasm and increase in slow increments to allow your ligaments time to catch up to your muscles. Also, pay close attention to your wrists and palms when lifting to ensure they are properly aligned and protected, especially when performing overhead lifts.

Fun Hand Facts

  • The hand has approximately 27 bones, 29 joints and 123 ligaments.
  • There are no actual muscles in your fingers; the muscles in your palms and forearms connect to your finger bones by tendons, pulling and moving them marionette style.
  • One-fourth of all athletic injuries involve the hands and/or wrists.
  • Each hand is controlled by the opposite hemisphere of the brain.
  • The wrinkles and creases in your finger joints remain only if the joints move. If you stop moving a finger joint, the creases will eventually flatten out.

Handy Warm-Up 

Use this warm-up/stretching routine preworkout and postworkout to help prevent and/or resolve a hand injury. Do five to 10 reps of each move for two rounds.

Fist to Fan

Make a tight fist, then open your hand and fingers as much as you can, fanning your fingers out.

Tip Touch

Touch the tip of each finger one at a time to the tip of your thumb to make an “o” shape.

Wrist Circles

Slowly circle your wrists clockwise and then counterclockwise, pausing in any position that feels especially tight or sore.

Stop and Drop

Extend your right arm straight with your palm facing forward, fingers together, as if signaling someone to stop. Grasp your fingertips with your left hand and gently pull them back. Hold for 15 seconds. Now flip your hand down so your palm faces you, and use your left hand to press down gently on your wrist and hand. Hold for 15 seconds and then release to complete one rep.