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Self Treatment Techniques for the Shoulders, Arms, & Hands

Posted by [email protected] on April 21, 2014 at 1:20 AM

Below are some stretches and muscle release techniques for arm & shoulder pain that I have personally used with good results. Feel free to share and try these techniques, but keep in mind that they might not work for you and are not a substitute for medical treatment. If you feel any sharp pain or your problem gets worse or fails to improve, stop the activity! For more details on my favorite way to stretch or loosen my own muscles, review my Self Treatment page.


Shoulder Carry Stress

Most people tend to carry stress in the muscles that elevate the shoulder blades. Sometimes, even minor "drama" cause the shoulders to creep up towards the ears! Sleep posture, carrying something frequently on one shoulder, talking on the phone without a hands-free headset, or typing without having the forearms supported can cause the muscles that elevate the shoulder to go into spasm (sometimes chronically) and make it difficult to turn your head. Chronic spasms can cause the levator and upper traps to get "glued" together and restrict proper motion.


The easiest way to get the shoulders to release is to press directly into any and all sore spots on top of the shoulder at the base of the neck, and to then rotate and bend your neck and head to "work out the kinks". Using a Theracane makes it easy to work these muscles yourself. Otherwise, sit on the floor and have a helper lean into you with their elbow (YOU pick the spot and how much pressure you want, if they are not a trained therapist!).



For maintaining loose shoulder muscles, I find a modified shoulder shrug stretch to work the best. Shrug your shoulders up as hard as you can for a few seconds (also try up-and-forward, & up-and-back), followed by pressing your shoulders towards the floor while pushing the top of your head toward the ceiling.


Also keep in mind that the serratus anterior muscles that wraps around your ribs can also refer pain to the shoulders (see section on Chest & Upper Back).

Biceps and Triceps

Occasionally, I encounter someone with a persistent "knot" in their triceps or biceps (that can lead to shoulder or lower arm pain), but usually pain in these muscles are temporary, caused by over-use. In both cases, gently stretching and/or pinning and stretching the muscle can help relax the muscle.


To stretch the triceps, raise your arm straight overhead and place your palm on the shoulder; for an additional stretch, push your elbow gently up and back. To stretch the biceps, extend your arm straight out to the side, point your thumb towards the floor, and stretch your arm in back of you (turn your thumb pointing down & backwards for an additional stretch). To directly work out any knots, press into the sore spot and flex your arm back and forth at the elbow (see pictures).






Forearms and Hands


Pain in the elbow, wrist, and hands often comes from tight muscles in the forearm. Too much gripping can cause the muscles in the palm of the hand and inside of the forearm to tighten and cramp; frequent gentle stretching of both fingers and hand will help treat and prevent this from occurring (see Right). It is especially important to stretch the fingers as we age, to maintain their mobility.


The thumb can also get stiff and sore from gripping and other repetitive motions. It can help to press into sore areas on the inside and outside of the bone near the base of the thumb, and then flex and rotate the thumb until the pain subsides. there are also trigger points in the bicep area that can refer pain to the thumb when a tight muscle pushes on the nerve descending from the spine.

The extensor muscles on the outside of the forearm also tend to get tight and ropy (especially from typing or using a mouse), and can lead to carpal-tunnel type pain. frequent stretching (by extending the arm and bending the hand down at the wrist) can help prevent this from getting too tight. If you are having pain, press into the sore area and flexing the wrist back and forth can help release this muscle (see Above, Left). If you work at a desk, it can also help to use a pad under your wrists (to keep your wrist straight), and to rest your hands on their sides (thumbs up, pinkies down) when you aren't actively typing.

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