Wrist Pain Bicep Curls: Causes, Fixes, Alternatives, and More

published by: Debbie Luna
Last Updated:
December 3, 2022

A rather common complaint when performing bicep curls is that of wrist pain, especially during straight barbell curls performed with particularly heavy amounts of weight.

Fortunately, wrist pain from bicep curls is rather easy to identify and remedy, and is usually an indicator that a simple error in form is being made, rather than the exerciser having sustained any sort of serious injury.

Wrist pain experienced during bicep curls is usually an indicator that the exerciser is failing to maintain a neutral wrist position during their repetitions - placing significant stress on the triangular fibrocartilage complex that holds the wrist and forearm structures together.

How is the Wrist Used During Bicep Curls?

The wrist structure primarily acts as a stabilizing point of attachment with which the exerciser will translate the resistance of the barbell or dumbbell to their biceps brachii muscles.

dumbbell bicep curl

While the majority of lifters do not consider their wrist to be contributing very much to the force utilized during a repetition of bicep curls, it is in fact quite important, as improper wrist positioning or disadvantageous wrist utilization can shift much of the strain of the exercise away from the biceps, effectively ruining the exercise.

The skeletal muscles that cross the wrist joint are rather thin and weak in comparison to other muscles found throughout the arms, meaning that excessive strain placed on them in this manner can result in a number of issues, with wrist pain being only one such problem encountered.

Furthermore, the wrist joint is in fact primarily connective tissue in the form of ligaments and cartilage - meaning that even if an exerciser is physically strong, the wrists will still be at risk of damage if used improperly.

Differentiating Wrist Pain and Forearm Pain From Curls

Both forearm pain and wrist pain from bicep curls are common issues experienced by lifters - so much so, in fact, that they are often confused for the other due to their proximity.

A good rule of thumb is to investigate how the pain occurs. 

If bending the wrist under load results in pain, it is likely an injury of the wrist joint, whereas if squeezing your hand into a fist or otherwise gripping items in a neutral grip results in pain, it is likely an injury of the forearm structure.

If this sort of analysis proves ineffective, another way to identify whether it is a wrist or forearm injury is to investigate the location of the pain.

While symptoms of pain can be inaccurate and in an entirely different location than the damaged area, forearm pain will generally run along the outer side of the forearms (especially in the case of tendonitis), whereas wrist pain may radiate near the os lunatum or os triquetrum bones of the hand instead.

A Note on Rehabilitation

Note that the sort of methods for rehabilitating forearm injuries and wrist injuries are quite different, and confusing one for the other can result in the injury becoming even worse despite attempts at physical rehabilitation.

If you are not absolutely certain that you have a wrist injury sustained from bicep curls, it is best to consult a physician who may accurately diagnose the issue. 

In certain cases where these methods prove ineffective however, the only course of action may be to replace the bicep curl entirely.

How to Fix Wrist Pain From Bicep Curls

Apart from seeking out the advice of a medical professional and taking time off from wrist-straining exercises, there are several methods of investigating and remedying the wrist pain that you experience when performing a bicep curl.

The majority of these methods have to do with how you perform the exercise, though there are also several preparatory actions one may take to better aid the wrist during moments of strain.

1. Maintain Neutral Wrist Positioning

The first and most important culprit to look towards is the position of the wrist during bicep curl repetitions. 

Excessive bending of the wrist backwards (wrist hyperextension) can easily cause excessive force to be put upon the tiny bones and connective tissues that make up the wrist while they are in a mechanically disadvantageous position, resulting in acute injury or otherwise chronic overuse injuries if performed at very high volumes.

neutral wrist position right vs wrong

In order to remedy this, the exerciser should first take a short time away from exercises that stress the wrist so as to allow the symptoms to abate. 

Then, when returning to bicep curls, the exerciser should ensure that their wrist maintains a neutral position, keeping it in line with the forearms so as to evenly distribute the resistance throughout the arm and maintain a mechanically advantageous wrist position.

2. Try Wrist Wraps

wrist wrap for curls

For higher level weightlifters, purchasing specialist fitness equipment meant to reinforce the wrist joint and maintain a neutral wrist position can be a worthwhile choice.

Wrist wraps act as a method of reducing risk of injury and stress of the wrists by wrapping around the wrist, providing a scaffold with which the wrist may press against so as to reinforce the tissues therein.

Wrist wraps often feature rigid material or padded bars within their structure so as to prevent the wrist from bending beyond a safe range of motion, especially in exercises where hyperextension is a frequently encountered mistake.

While wrist wraps will not fix form issues as they are more of a band-aid than anything else, they can be useful for individuals with a previous history of wrist or hand injuries that are aggravated by bicep curls.

3. Switch to a Wrist-Friendly Alternative Exercise

The majority of lifters who experience wrist pain during bicep curls will do so as they execute straight barbell curls - a bicep curl variation considered to be the least advantageous and most risky in terms of wrist injuries.

While straight barbell curls can be performed safely when proper form is adhered to, it is occasionally a better idea to simply switch them out with an exercise that is far less strenuous on the wrists.

Either by swapping out the equipment used or performing an entirely different exercise altogether, there are doubtless quite a few suitable alternatives to this variation of the bicep curl.

4. Perform Wrist Strengthening and Mobility-Improving Exercises

In certain cases, strengthening or otherwise improving the mobility of the wrist joint can help remedy pain experienced while performing bicep curls.

While this is naturally a part of injury rehabilitation, performing such exercises prior to the injury progressing is a sure-fire way of arresting the pain and ensuring that the wrists are fully up to the task of performing a bicep curl.

Remember that, even with such exercises, performing curls with incorrect wrist positioning will still result in injury - making proper form adherence just as important as strengthening the tissues of the wrist.

5. Warm Up the Wrists Before Curling

For lifters with only minor pain during bicep curls (and proper form adherence), one possible way of ensuring that the wrists are as prepared as possible is to perform a dynamic warm-up routine prior to beginning the exercise.

Performing wrist rotations alongside wrist extensions will ensure that sufficient blood flow is supplied to the joint, as well as help prepare the connective tissues for the resistance that will be placed upon them by the exercise.

Of course, if you have been diagnosed with a more severe injury of the wrist, it is best to avoid performing such movements until pre-approved by a physician.

6. Reduce the Weight

Another factor that is worth investigating is the weight with which you are executing the bicep curl. 

Excessive amounts of weight may cause the wrist to collapse inwards or otherwise affect it in such a way that pain and risk of injury are inevitable - especially in the case of straight bar bicep curls, where the wrists will rotate in order to keep the bar moving.

As such, it is best to only perform bicep curls with only a moderate level of resistance, instead accounting for this difference in intensity with a higher level of volume per set.

This is especially the case for individuals who require rehabilitation of the wrist, as continuing to perform bicep curls at full working weight while injured will only make the injury worse.

Bicep Curl Alternatives to Avoid Wrist Pain

1. Dumbbell Bicep Curls

In the event that you are performing E-Z barbell bicep curls or straight bar bicep curls, it may be a good idea to switch over to dumbbell bicep curls.

The main difference of this alternative is that the bicep curl is performed unilaterally - meaning that each arm is allowed to move independently of the other. 

dumbbell biceps curl

While this equates to less total weight being moved per repetition, it also allows the wrists to move in a more natural and free manner, as they are not forced to hyperextend so as to keep the barbell moving in the correct range of motion.

Keep in mind that dumbbell-based bicep curls will still place strain on the wrist, and that it is up to the lifter to ensure that their wrist maintains a neutral angle instead of collapsing into a hyperextension position unconsciously.

2. E-Z Barbell Bicep Curls

For exercisers that wish to retain the bilateral nature of straight bar bicep curls but nonetheless experience wrist pain when performing them, the E-Z barbell bicep curl is an excellent substitution with very little in terms of disadvantage.

ez barbell curl

The usage of an E-Z barbell for curling allows the exerciser to maintain a neutral wrist position far easier than would be possible with most other types of barbells, reducing any pain that they may be experiencing and ensuring that injuries of the wrist are far less common.

3. Hammer Curls

In the event that any sort of bicep curl results in wrist pain (either due to a severe injury in the past or simple biomechanical incompatibility) it is possible to switch to a different type of curl that also targets the biceps to a certain extent.

dumbbell hammer curl

In this case, the hammer curl is one such alternative, as it features an entirely different wrist position and angle of resistance - though this safer wrist position comes with the trade-off of featuring less biceps brachii activation.

Instead, hammer curls will target the brachioradialis and brachialis alongside the biceps brachii - making it a compound movement that only incidentally happens to train the biceps as well.

Before switching out your bicep curls for hammer curls, make sure that your program features enough biceps brachii stimulation to ensure they develop readily.

4. Reverse Curls

Another type of curl that significantly alters the mechanics of the exercise is the reverse curl, wherein the exerciser will grip a barbell or pair of dumbbells with a reverse (pronated) grip, greatly reducing stress of the wrist joint and eliminating the risk of hyperextension injuries.

dumbbell reverse curl muscles

Just as is the case with hammer curls, switching out your bicep curls with reverse curls will cause a portion of the exercise’s resistance to be shifted to a different muscle group - in this case, the forearms.

As such, when substituting bicep curls for reverse curls because of wrist pain, make sure that your training program is also summarily altered to accommodate this change as well.

In Conclusion

If you are reading this article because you are experiencing wrist pain during or after a set of bicep curls, the surest way to remedy the issue is to visit a medical professional. 

It is entirely possible for factors outside of the gym to be causing issues in the wrist joint, and bicep curls may simply be one small part of the problem.

Otherwise, take the time to examine your execution of the bicep curl. Investigate your form - particularly your wrist position - as well as ensure that you are not attempting to lift too much weight per repetition.

Fortunately, wrist pain from bicep curls is an extremely common experience, and is relatively easy to treat once you have identified the source of the problem.

References

1. Kasim Serbest. A Biomechanical Analysis of Dumbbell Curl and Investigation of the Effects of Increasing Loads on Biceps Brachii Using A Finite Element Model, 02 February 2022, PREPRINT (Version 1) available at Research Square [https://doi.org/10.21203/rs.3.rs-1263844/v1]

2. Willette, Allen. (2017, February 11). Wrist Pain With Biceps Curl Exercises: What Causes It And What To Do About It. Retrieved November 23, 2022, from Tennis Elbow Classroom website: https://tenniselbowclassroom.com/videos/wrist-pain-with-biceps-curl-exercises/

3. Nance E. M., Byun D. J., Endo Y, Wolfe S. W, Lee S. K. Dorsal Wrist Pain in the Extended Wrist Loading Position: An MRI Study. J Wrist Surg. 2017 Nov;6(4):276-279. doi: 10.1055/s-0037-1599829. Epub 2017 Mar 8. PM ID: 29085728; PMC ID: PMC 5658215.

Debbie (Deb) started powerlifting and Olympic lifting in High School as part of her track team's programming; She continues to train in order to remain athletic. Inspire US allows Deb to share information related to training, lifting, biomechanics, and more.
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