As important as they are to your safety, you've got to admit, wrist guards are a pretty strange looking piece of gear. It's no wonder people have a hard time figuring out how they're supposed to go on. (In today's beginner class, 3 out of 4 students started out with "Wrong way #1,"--shown below--before I checked their gear). Here's a little photo essay to make sure they protect you as designed.
Most wrist guards have a plastic splint on the top and the bottom to protect your wrist from injury when you use your hands to break a fall, which is an instinctive reaction that keeps your head from hitting the ground first. As with knee and elbow pads, the hard plastic makes sure you slide so that the sudden impact of a fall doesn't dislocate your shoulder. Wrist guards with plastic on just the palm side will still slide, but without spints both above and below the wrist joint, they don't protect against breaks or fractures. That's why I recommend full wrist guards for recreational and fitness skating, as shown in these photos.
The right way to wear wrist guards
The "skid plate" cups the heel of your hand, and its slight curve guides the fingers up and away from the pavement. The wide end of the plastic splints fits over the knuckles; the narrow end fits around the arm above the wrist joint.
(Click this photo to enlarge)
Wrong way # 1
Oops, the skid plate is on top! When the wrist guard is worn upside down, the fingers are at risk of getting crunched in a fall. Wrists and shoulders are now at risk because the palms won't skid after the initial impact.
Wrong way # 2
Yes, the skid plate is on the bottom side, but this wrist guard is rotated. The wrist joint is not protected at all by the plasitc splints. With the splints extending up the hand, they make it pretty hard to use your fingers, too.
Wrong way # 3 (I'm not making this up!)
Some pre-packaged gear sets come without elbow pads. One of my more creative students didn't realize it was elbow pads, not wrist guards that he was missing.