Why the royal wave is a nightmare for Prince Philips’ health

The Duke of Edinburgh's cousin reveals the nightly effect the official greeting was having on his body

Prince Philip royal wave, Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh during the transfer of the Colonel-in-Chief of The Rifles at Windsor Castle on July 22, 2020 in Windsor, England.
(Image credit: Samir Hussein / Contributor Getty)

Prince Phillip, like many other members of the royal family including the Queen, must comply with giving a royal wave when he attended official public engagements. But the traditional greeting, which involves raising a hand and turning it from side to side, is said to have played havoc with his health over the years.

The Duke of Edinburgh stood next to the Queen on most of her national and international travel since she was first crowned in 1953 until his retirement in 2017.

And during every engagement, both he and the Queen would do the royal wave - which is described as 'a vertical hand with a slight twist from the wrist, a classy affair that oozes decorum but doesn't get too excitable.'

But while the Prince Philip royal wave is designed to help royals avoid wrist injuries and looks better than greeting the crowd with a jazz-hands style wave, it left him with a nightly dilemma that even the best pillows couldn't fix.

3/20/1954-Townsville, Australia- The top was back so the crowds could see Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh as they drove through Townsville, Queensland, recetly, so Liz hoisted a sunshade with one hand and waved to the crowds with the other. Well, they say the sun never sets on the British empire...

(Image credit: Bettmann / Contributor Getty)

Speaking on the documentary My Years With the Queen, the Duke's cousin Lady Pamela Hicks, revealed he had developed a dislike for the so-called "royal wave." And she said the gesture had also evolved into an overnight issue for Philip, who returned home to Windsor last month following a heart operation.

Reading from the diaries she kept while accompanying the Queen on her tour of the Caribbean and Australia, she recalled, "Friday, January 1 - Philip and Lilibeth have to keep waving nearly all day long. She's developed tremendous muscles in her arms. Sitting still in the car, being yelled at and having to wave is the part of the tour Philip really loathes."

But during a conversation on screen with her daughter India, who is Prince Charles' goddaughter, she revealed the strange habit the Duke had been left with as a result of the Prince Philip royal wave frequency.

She continued, "He always woke up with a very cold hand and wondered why and then he realized that in his sleep, he is waving."

Queen Elizabeth II (centre) and the Duke of Edinburgh (right) waving to the gathered crowd, with the Mayor of Casino, Alderman Manyweathers (left), at Carrington Park, New South Wales, February 15th 1954.

(Image credit: Central Press / Stringer Getty)

But the Prince Philip royal wave and its effects on his sleeping position could be causing him health issues.

Dr Raj Bhatia, consultant orthopaedic surgeon at Harley Hand & Wrist Clinic warned, "The action of waving is a complex movement controlled by a number of tendons crossing the wrist.  By waving repetitively ‘tendonitis’ or inflammation of the tendons can develop.  Tendonitis is characterised by pain, swelling, and a crackling sensation on the movement of the wrist."

While injuries like this are common in sportspeople who play tennis, golf, or baseball,  they can also occur in people who perform repetitive movements during daily activities.

Dr. Bhatia, continued, "In the early or acute phase these symptoms will settle with rest, exercise and anti-inflammatory medication. Occasionally a steroid injection may be required. In the long-term chronic damage to the tendons caused by micro-tears can occur.  We term this ’tendinosis’ and this is best treated with physiotherapy, principally eccentric muscle contraction exercises. Occasionally surgery may be required."

Young woman sleeping with arm up

(Image credit: Image Source Getty)

Another injury common with twisting the wrist, like in a royal wave action is De Quervain's tenosynovitis - experts state, "repetitive movements of the thumb and wrist, or a direct blow to the area, may irritate these tendons and cause them to swell, hindering their movement through the sheath and causing pain." 

And according to a study by Michaud et al in 2000 individuals with arm restlessness tend to have more severe restless leg syndrome and poorer sleep quality as compared to those without them. 

Approximately five percent of people sleep in the starfish position, but sleeping with both arms or one arm like Philip, can cause shoulder pain as the position puts pressure on the nerves in your upper back and might leave you with numbness and tingling in your arms and hands.

But there are some benefits to be had by waving, as it's one way of achieving beautiful hands. Young aristocrats used to hold their hands in the air while being driven to a fancy party. Why? it's claimed that by the time they arrived, the blood had drained down from their hands, which would be fashionably cool and pale for when they had shaken their hostess's hand. It also makes bulging veins look temporarily less prominent.