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The Boxer’s Wrist
15 Tips on Avoiding Training Injuries
The wrist is the most often injured part of the novice boxer’s body. If you are just starting out than following the advice below should helpfully negate these often discouraging injuries. If you are an aging boxer give this a look. After you peak in the late 20s injuries will start popping up. Also, some of the tips below are equipment specific and could save your wrist when visiting a gym with exotic equipment.
1. For your first six weeks, or after a wrist injury, make sure to wrap with an extra set of wraps from the thumb down, mainly as a soft cast for the wrist. When wrapping with a single pair of wraps make certain that ‘home base’ is behind the thumb. This is where most wrist injuries occur. My favorite method for wrapping is to use Mexican style gauze from wrist to knuckles, and then using cotton wraps from the back of the hand down, with both types overlapping at the wrist, base of the thumb, and the lower portion of the back of the hand. This also helps protect against boxer’s fracture if you X-pattern at least twice with each wrap.
2. Never punch the heavy bag without wraps and gloves.
3. Avoid using old competition gloves on the heavy bag, as they are not flat enough across the face to limit wrist strain.
4. When rehabbing or just learning how to hit the heavy bag, try slapping it instead of punching. If, ever, you are unwrapped and ungloved, and feel the need to hit a bag [for instance while coaching] than slap check it. Slap boxing a heavy bag helps you loosen your upper body muscles and concentrate on your body mechanics, improving form. Also, if called upon to use your boxing ability to defend yourself, you do not want to punch, but slap and check, to minimize your legal liability.
5. When learning or rehabbing, punch the heavy bag without full force, working on form. It takes longer to develop wrist strength than it does to develop punching power. Give the wrists time to catch up.
6. The most common wrist injury incurred on the standard hanging heavy bag is caused by the bag ‘bucking’. If the bag bucks while you are punching low with a thumb up vertical fist there is high risk of injury to the wrist just behind the thumb. Vertical fist punches to a hanging heavy bag should be landed from the shoulder up.
7. Upper cut bags cause a lot of wrist injuries because of the temptation to curl the wrist. When hitting this bag be content to plant the face of the fist into the lower curve of the bag at a diagonal angle. Do not try to hit the bag underneath.
8. Do not even hit a mushroom shaped bag!
9. The safest bag for uppercut and shovel hook training is the round hanging bag.
10. Overall, punching lighter bags earlier on in novice training or rehab is preferable to going right to the heavy bags.
11. In the course of your standard routine I like the heavy bag in the middle of the equipment rotation. That way the wrist gets warmed up, let’s say, on the speed bag, gets stressed on the heavy equipment, and then gets warmed down on the light bags again.
12. When hitting heavy reflex bags [or even freestanding ‘dead bags’ used by karate fighters] the most common injury to the wrist is to the extensor tendons that travel down the back of the hand into the wrist. Spraining and straining these tendons occurs when hard horizontal palm down punches are thrown high on the bag. This can be exasperated if you are wearing sparring gloves or old competition gloves without a flat face.
13. When hitting mitts avoid having the holder bat down with the mitts. Not only does this create a false sense of time and measure, but [if he is taller or stronger, or if you have tweaked the thumb side of your wrist] this batting action will have the same effect as a heavy bag bucking and can irritate the big nerve that travels to the base of the thumb.
14. Consider doing hand and wrist exercises to improve the tendon strength and flexibility of your wrist. FMA practitioners have numerous exercises like this, usually performed with sticks.
15. To counter act any cramping in your hands, and to help keep your flexors and extensors balanced, consider wearing the type of braces that people recovering from carpal tunnel surgery wear. Use these while sleeping. The design prevents you making a fist or squeezing with your hand while sleeping.
American Fist is an anthology of James LaFond’s boxing commentary and instructional literature. The author did not want the book released until we could get a hold of a certain Sam Langford photo on the cover.
Includes analysis of recent fights for the learning boxer. The ad posting is worth checking out just for cover of Sam Langford, #3 all-time KO leader.
To check out American Fist visit:
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Add Comment
HusnainDecember 23, 2019 7:14 AM UTC

Great information!

I was sparring yesterday without wraps like an idiot and hit a body shot awkwardly and now have mild pain in the wrist area on the thumb side. I can feel the pain more when I bend my wirst upwards, but no pain when bending wrist downwards.

I believe it was when I punched I may have turned my wrist slightly in when it connected as I felt it right away.

What would you advise me to do, as the pain isn't severe?
responds:December 24, 2019 7:42 AM UTC

Shadow box without wraps for a week.

Hit light bags with wraps for a week.

See how it feels after that and be mindful not to spar without wraps, be careful on the heavy bag and do not throw thumb-up body shoots, but palm up or palm down, usually palm up with the thumb rotated out, unless you are hitting behind his elbow in the kidney area.

Good luck, Husnain.
GinaJuly 10, 2019 12:17 PM UTC

Hi James,

Excellent tips, thank you.

I am a 50 year old woman with some wrist and thumb issues, some discomfort on the cushy area by the thumb/palm and slight carpal tunnel. I want to take some classes at a local Title Boxing gym that focuses on punching the heavy bags. The classes are divided into 30, 45, and 60 minute sessions. Do you advise sticking with the 30 minute class for at least a few months in the beginning. And can you point to a video that uses the technique you're talking about using two wraps? Also do you recommend boxing tape, and if so will any kind do?

Thanks, James.

Gina
responds:July 12, 2019 10:55 AM UTC

Hey Gina,

I don't know of any video on this wrapping technique. Use gauze on your knuckles and wrist and then use heavy training wraps as a cast on the wrist bracing up to the base of the thumb.

I would suggest only hitting the bag for 30 minutes and hitting it lightly with the injured hand and replacing additional bag work with shadow boxing. Try and get access to a double-ended string bag for training. If at any time your thumb tweaks while hitting the bag stop making contact with it and just do the punching motion. Be careful not to hyperextend when punching without hitting.

The best thing you can do for your hands is to have a professional corner man like Mo Morales in Reading Pennsylvania, tape your hands. This usually costs $10.
TylerApril 2, 2019 3:35 AM UTC

I just started kickboxing about a month ago. Since my last class last week I have noticed some pain in my wrists when I make a tight fist or when my fingers bend back towards myself (like when doing push-ups). Impact doesn’t feel great either. I’ve been wrapping my wrist, but I’m not sure what this discomfort is. Do you have any ideas? The pain in my left is behind my thumb where my hand connects with my forearm. My right is in between the bones of my wrist. My kickboxing instructor suggested light to no impact and to focus on form.
responds:April 2, 2019 4:18 PM UTC

Go no impact for six weeks.

When you return to impact do not throw punches with the thumb up with the left hand. Thumb up punches are the most common cause of a jammed nerve behind the thumb. Your punches should be palm down or palm up with the left until the pain goes away, then try a diagonal fist jab. Wrap more behind the thumb.

Do not use punching mitts when returning to contact but light bags, then floor standing heavy bags. Hanging heavy bags buckle and stress the wrist and batted mitts injure the thumb side.

The right wrist needs to be checked by a doctor.

Strengthening of the wrists with wraps on generally takes new male boxers three months and women a year.

The right problem could be caused by you having more power in that hand than normal for the early stage of development but might just be from throwing palm down punch into a buckling heavy bag or a batted mitt.

Mitts area also a bad idea for timing and are essentially a PR gimmick for pros and a way to sell a fight like feeling to fitness and martial arts students.

Discard them and shadow box, then set up a double ended bag.
Alok kumarFebruary 3, 2018 7:41 AM UTC

Hii ,

I am Railway Engineer ,I started practicing without gloves on punching bag for first 3-4 days it didn't hurt but one day I hit hard and my wrist got inclined/ bent position while hitting. I felt stiff hands for first few days no cracks in x-ray report but since that day it has been 4 months but problems while bending my wrist upward , pain at finger joint with wrist and while using mobile phone .I feel pain in right end bone of wrist in my right hand .

Also if I do push-up and pull-ups I feel stiff wrist. Some rubbing sound while twisting my wrist. please suggest some treatment because two sessions of physiotherapy didn't help me .

Thanking you

Alok kumar
responds:February 3, 2018 7:38 PM UTC

This is probably a ligament problem.

Discontinue pushups and pullups and replace with dumbbell exercises until pain decreases.

Heat and wrap before training.

Ice after training.

Shadow box instead of hitting bags.

When pain decreases wrap your wrist and hit a light air-filled bag.

When pain goes away go back to hitting standard punching bags.

Gloves are less important than wraps. Gloves without wraps can add wrist stress.

I promise to do a wrist testing exercise video this spring on Lancaster Agonistics you tube channel.

Ligaments take 10-12 months to heal.

Any additional questions address to jameslafond.com@gmail.com.

Good luck and safe training Alok.

You have to examine your work functions also, for repetitive stress that might effect your healing or predispose you for wrist injury. Parttime fighters with fulltime jobs must take their job stresses into consideration.
SofiaDecember 14, 2017 3:20 AM UTC

Thank you James, you are the best!
responds:December 14, 2017 10:56 AM UTC

Sofia,

I have a few books which address these issues, the best being The Punishing Art.

Since you are a woman and have shown approval to me in public, that basically translates into a free e-version of the book. Prehistoric economics are pretty simple, really. I have a sexist reputation to uphold, after all as well as an obligation to lead my predominantly meatheaded masculine readership by example. Email me at jameslafond.com@gmail.com to exercise your feminine privilege and I will send you an adobe PDF. Hopefully you will value The Punishing Art enough to recommend the book to your training partners at the gym.

Also, try practicing your hook by throwing rising diagonal and lateral elbows at the bag. Don't slash like a Muay Thai elbow. You are practicing elbows to develop the lateral Philly hook and the rising shovel hook.

Start in the mirror and on the light bag before moving to the heavy bag and make sure not to shrug your shoulder when throwing the elbow. Keep the shoulder relaxed and use no shoulder force.

Think of a weapon, like a spear. The elbow, arm and shoulder are just the shaft, haft and spear point of the system. Your pivot is the propulsion system, analogous to your body casting a spear.

Good luck, Sofia.
SofiaDecember 12, 2017 1:24 PM UTC

Been searching for good information on wrist injury for a while! This is such a comprehensive guideline.

I injured both of my wrists from poor technique hooks with a lot of power. Plus I was doing crow position (yoga) after each training. It’s been 3-4 months. Initially my left wouldn’t been move and it took couple weeks to be able to move. However the pain (I am guessing it’s called flexor carpi ulnaris) remained since then and doesn’t go away. I’m limited to certain range of motion: moving left wrist to the right while arm is stable is very painful. Straight, jab and upper cut aren’t very painful but hooks are, especially left. I’ll follow the soft cast wrapping you advised but I wonder should I see a specialist? I’d hate to take meds if I can avoid.
responds:December 12, 2017 2:23 PM UTC

Sofia,

You should see an orthopedic specialist at a sports medicine clinic.

Men should not throw hooks for six months, women a year.

The wrap is to help support your wrist while it strengthens.

Stop throwing upper cuts and hooks.

When it is healed, it is not healed-it's 80%, the most you ever recover from joint injuries.

If I was coaching you, you wouldn't hook on the bag for a year while this mends and heals.

The important aspect of hooking is the pivot. That is best learned via cuffing the bag and working up to shovel hooking the reflex back.

Your classic philly hooks should be learned on the speed bag and string bag.

The sooner you go back to the drawing board the quicker you will bounce back.

Stop hitting the heavy bag all together until you are healed.

Back off to shadow boxing and light bags.

Only 1 in 3 pros use the upper cut. Drop it from your arsenal and focus on mobility—improve the legs while the arms heal.

Good luck and safe training, Sofia.
RoderickApril 2, 2017 2:57 PM UTC

It looks like I have become a victim of #6 I hit the bag very low yesterday with a left hook thumb up. Right behind the thumb is a little swollen but certain movements make it feel like my whole hand is popping out of place. I'm hoping this will heal with time and on its on. It doesn't hurt when neutral just when I bend the wrist toward my inside arm and pulling actions with a straight hand.
responds:April 3, 2017 4:44 PM UTC

Roderick,

The Philly hook, with thump up is only to be thrown at the head.

use the shovel hook for any body shot.

You will note that the shovel hook rotates the thump almost to supination [palm up], rolling the thumb away from his descending elbow and keeping the joint and nerve cluster behind the thumb from being jammed.

I would not hit the heavy bag with that hand for two weeks.

Don't hit anything for a week.

Start on a light bag with a double wrap, with the area behind the thumb braced so that it cannot depress.
Ed ColsonJuly 24, 2016 8:25 PM UTC

Thanks again. Tried using the lighter wrap and Have already notice

Some improvements since doing so. I will be patient!

Take care,

Ed
Ed ColsonJuly 18, 2016 3:16 PM UTC

THIS IS THE BEST INFO I'VE FOUND ON THE NET FOR MY BAG RELATED WRIST INJURY... THANK YOU!
responds:July 20, 2016 10:37 AM UTC

Ed, after wrapping, try a "soft cast" with a second wrap by Xing once low across the back of the hand and then winding it down the wrist in 8th inch increments.

remember that you are not out of the woods with joint injuries until 12 months and then you only get 80% or original potential, so remain careful.

thanks for the compliment, Ed.