Carrying stuff in your arms is tough. And by carrying I don’t mean picking up heavy stuff 5-20 times in a row, but sustained, long-duration carrying. Think carrying your kid for a few miles.
I’ve posted before on adjusting certain body parts (like your ribs or shoulders) if a part is ailing you after lots of holding, but this post is about the wrist pain that can sometimes come with carrying kids. (Actually, you can apply this info to many other things, so even if you don’t have or carry kids, you’ll find some iota here that you can apply to other ways you repetitively load your body.)
As you probably know, the body’s basic program is to expend as little energy as possible. This means you come with a huge bag of tricks that allows you to do an activity utilizing as much passive force as possible. Which means that you can carry a kid using less muscle force than what you could be using. WHY WOULD YOU WANT TO USE MORE MUSCLE TO CARRY SOMETHING? Well, there lies the rub. When you’re applying a load to the body and not generating a force, the work is done by other tissues--and in most cases, tissues can’t adapt to respond to the load, which means you slowly sacrifice that tissue.
In the case of wrists, it goes like this: You’re holding your kid in your arms, but by holding one hand with the other, the arms muscles work less and more work is done by the sling-like structure you’ve created by grasping your wrist.
Can you feel how much tension (pulling one end of something away from the other) you’ve created at the wrist?
On one hand (get it?), utilizing a tractioning force like this is great because your arms get a break. On the other hand (which is actually the same hand anatomically speaking--I'm using "other hand" as an idiom, not a description of the anatomy) it’s bad for the wrist’s connective tissue, which is slowly deforming under the load.
Want to see how much of the work you’ve given to deforming tissue? Stop holding your wrist and either hold with one arm or with two, non-connecting arms.
Boom. See what the full load feels like? That’s how much more muscular force could be going into the equation. (And if you thought it was easy to get these photos, YOU WERE WRONG. I wish I had a video of the 23 second wrestling match that ensued. I lost, in case you were wondering.)
If you have a sore wrist, my first suggestion would be to stop pulling on it so much. Let your arms, slowly, adapt to doing more work. To transition slowly, you’ll need to find a way to give your arm muscles a break. To assist yourself as you build strength:
1. Find a slightly different part of the arms to hold on to.
2. Use your other arm more often.
3. Teach your kids to hold on to you (NO FREELOADING!).
4. Carry on your shoulders and on your back more frequently (i.e. don’t just go in-arms, or only in right arm or in left arm because that's your habit).
While you might be most interested in figuring out a better way of holding because of your sore wrist (or shoulder or back or whatever), changing positions regularly is not only good for you, it’s good for the kid--who should be rotating around your body anyways. Just like baby-led weaning, baby-led moving (i.e. the kid-initiated assumption of numerous positions relative to you and gravity) is what cultivates new muscle patterns and strength. Everybody cross-trains, every body wins!