Wrist pain - Is your cup overflowing?

Ulnar sided wrist pain sucks. 

That could probably be my Ted Talk and most people would be in agreement. Unfortunately, that does not address the unanswered questions about ulnar sided wrist pain we receive on a frequent basis.

"Why does my wrist hurt?"

"What specific structure is causing my wrist pain?"

"Are there any specific exercises that will fix me?"

Pain is complex.

There are 2 primary trains of thought when it comes to the pain experience:

1) The body is mechanical in nature and breaks down at various levels due to overuse, wear and tear or imbalances. If we view the body from this perspective, we are likely to attribute ALL aches and pain to a mechanical cause.

2) The human body is a complex system with biopsychosocial factors that affect how we perceive and react to certain scenarios. If we view the body from this perspective, we acknowledge that biomechanical, psychological and social factors can have an influence on our perception and experience of pain or discomfort. 

What does this have to do with cups?

Imagine (for a brief second) that you are a cup. The type of cup does not matter. What do we fill the cup with?

  • joint chemical and fluid changes
  • worry and fear
  • history of exercise discomfort or pain
  • central nervous system sensitization
  • lack of sleep

If at this stage the cup is not full yet, you might not be experiencing pain or discomfort at a significant level. But what happens when we continue to fill the cup?

  • more worry or increased anxiety
  • doing too much too soon
  • lack of sleep (more often)
  • work related stressors

Before you know it, your cup overflows. This can potentially increase your perception or negative experience with pain.

So what can we do?

1) We can try to manage the variables as best as we such as prioritizing our sleep and managing stress. 

2) We can build a bigger cup. Increasing our tolerance to exercise and activity over time will allow us to add more to our cup without it overflowing.

In Summary

The pain experience is complex and there are multiple variables that can affect this. Exercise and activity modification has the potential to improve your quality of life through the pain experience, not to mention all the other health-related benefits it also brings.

If you are experiencing pain, it is always recommended to discuss this with a medical professional and address your concerns as soon as possible.


The cup-analogy of pain is originally described by Greg Lehman What? Pain is complex - the overflowing cup analogy of pain. - YouTube

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