Self Care

Stretching Hands, Wrists, and Forearms
Most of us are fairly hard on our wrists and hands without even knowing it. We spend a good portion of our days gripping things and typing on keyboards or mobile devices, neither of which are actions that make your hands, wrists, and forearms very happy. If you’re gripping and lifting heavy weights, you’re really asking them to do a lot, even if the focus of the exercise is elsewhere in the body. Whether you have pain in these areas or not, you can benefit from spending a little time giving them some love – you’ll help keep your grip strong, your hands and wrists free of pain and numbness, and ward off things like carpal tunnel syndrome and similar issues.
To address these areas, you’re going to focus on 4 main points: 1. The front of the chest (pectoralis/pectoralis minor), 2. The spot at the back of your armpit where it connects to your torso, 3. The forearm, and 4. The wrists.
*special thanks to Philip for modeling these stretches!

Stretching Hands Wrists and Forearms

Front of the Chest (Pec/Pec Minor)

 

Lie on your belly on the floor with enough room to extend at least one arm directly out from your shoulder (straight elbow). Roll over onto that side, like so:
Stretching Hands, Wrists, and Forearms
Use your opposite arm for stability, as this person is doing here. Bend your top leg and let the foot fall onto the floor (as seen here). If it doesn’t reach the floor, use a pillow or something to support it comfortably.  Do both sides.
THEN, you’ll do something similar on each side, except instead of having a straight arm coming directly from your shoulder, you’re going to bend the elbow of the arm on the floor 90° degrees, and slide the elbow up so that it about level with your eyes/top of your head, at about a 45° angle. This should feel like a much more intense stretch, and you’ll likely not be able to roll over as far as you were on the first one.
 Stretching Hands, Wrists, and Forearms
In this, you’re looking to relax the pec and the pec minor, which can often trap the brachial plexus, which is the nerve supply for the whole arm.  The muscle in the diagram below that is shown lying over the brachial plexus is the pec minor. You can imagine it roughly going from the divot near the shoulder to the nipple on the same side. It is generally fairly grumpy.
Stretching Hands, Wrists, and Forearms

The brachial plexus, seen beneath the pec minor.

Teres Major Release

This is another entrapment point for the brachial plexus. The muscle that we’re addressing here is called the Teres Major, and it plays a bigger role in shoulder mobility and rotation than you might think, given its relatively small size. Addressing this area will help to balance the tension in the shoulder which will help ease any tension patterns traveling down the arm.
To release teres major, you’re going to lean against a ball on the floor and put some pressure into it. Teres Major attaches on the outside edge of the bottom of your shoulder blade, so that’s the area you’re looking for. Raise your arm above your head, hold the ball in place with your opposite hand while you arrange yourself on the floor and start to put pressure into it. You may need to roll around slowly a bit until you find something cranky, and then lean on it. If you’re using the floor, you’ll want to use something to support your head. If lying on a ball on the floor is super painful, do this against a wall instead, you’ll have more control over how much of your body weight you’re putting into the ball.
Stretching Hands, Wrists, and Forearms

Forearms

 

The muscle responsible for most of forearm pronation lives here, up in the soft part of your inner forearm near the elbow. It is generally a cranky, bossy fellow. In the diagram below, the black X represents the rough location of the muscle, and the red dots indicate typical pain patterning when this little guy is angry.
Stretching Hands, Wrists, and Forearms
To get at this, you’ll come onto all fours to a tabletop position, with knees under hips and hands/elbows/wrists under shoulders.
From here, lay one forearm down with the back of your hand on the ground, palm facing up. Your elbow of this arm should still be below the same shoulder, and your hand on this side will be almost under your opposite shoulder (roughly). You’ll need to bend your opposite elbow, and you’ll feel like you’re a little bit in a crunched up, awkward position here. Soldier on, you’re doing it right.
Stretching Hands, Wrists, and Forearms
Walk the elbow of the “forearm flat” arm back towards your knee, and bring your knee onto your forearm and mush it around. (That’s a technical term.) When you do this, you’ll see that as you press your knee into various areas of the forearm, it will make your fingers curl. Stay towards the middle forearm and elbow – there isn’t a lot of muscle down near the wrist and broken wrists don’t feel good, especially when self-inflicted.
Then, rotate your hand so it faces your feet (rather than pointing up at your face) and use the knee to drag the forearm muscles gently away from the bone.

Wrists

Start in a tabletop position and from there, simply turn your fingers to point out toward the sides instead of forward. Slowly start to make circles with your whole body so that the pressure in the wrists changes as you move. Circle in both directions maybe about 10x each, and move relatively slowly.
From here, turn your fingers back to face your body, keeping the same tabletop position. Do the same circles in both directions. Once you’ve finished with the circles, you’ll do a static stretch with your hands in the same position – simply start to shift your bodyweight back so that your shoulders are behind your wrists instead of over them.
Feel free to shift back as far as you like. You can come back all the way to sit on your heels, and peel the heels of your hands up IF it feels good. Stick within a reasonable comfort zone. Hold 20-30 seconds.
Stretching Hands, Wrists, and Forearms
After that, sit in any comfortable position (cross legged, kneeling, whatever works). Clasp your hands in front of you and reach your arms straight out in front of you, rounding your back and pushing your knuckles as far away from you as you can.
Flip your hands around and push your hands out in front of you again, arching your back this time, and pressing the palms of your hands away from you, looking up.
Now, keep the same hand position (palms away) and reach arms up over your head, reaching high.
Repeat those same three a few more times.
Stretching Hands, Wrists, and Forearms

 

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How does Voodoo Floss work?

As of late, I’ve seen a fair number of folks using voodoo floss. Admittedly, I hadn’t given it much thought, seeing as most of the folks using it would easily qualify as meatheads, and the first guy I saw using it told me he used it to make his arms puff up so he could “Look more swole, bro”.

Yeah, so anyway.

Off I went to do some research with my pal Dr. Google about Voodoo Floss. I wasn’t impressed. Especially given the choice of video tacked onto the bottom of the product listing, wherein big name mobility guy Kelly Starrett voodoo flosses someone’s elbow and jolts it around, nearly hyperextending it in the name of ‘increasing mobility’. I clicked off the page and moved on with my day. Not long after, I started thinking about why this dude was using voodoo floss to ‘look swole’, and my line of thinking brought me to the idea that maybe the voodoo floss wasn’t so much voodoo at all.

I borrowed one from a friend, and started experimenting on myself. I ‘flossed’ knees, elbows, ankles, shoulders and basically anything I could easily wrap on my own. I played around with different types of movement and different methods of wrapping. I had some pesky clicking in my knee during squats that cleared up each time I flossed my knee. I started doing it to my friends and family, and finally, with my clients.

Like many other things in massage therapy, there isn’t much in the way of evidence-based study on things like Voodoo Floss – everything I discuss below is based off my own experiences and the information my clients have passed on to me. While I’m always looking for data and studies that back up this subjective information, when I see excellent anecdotal evidence supporting the use of a tool like this, I’m happy to go with it. I’m sure we’ll be seeing more information on voodoo floss and other similar tools as they become more mainstream.

Ischemic Compression

It would make sense to me that tightening the voodoo floss would cause some type of ischemic compression (oft employed some massage modalities, like trigger point therapy) in the area in question. The concept is fairly simple: deliberately block the blood flow to a specific area. The body realizes this and attempts to send more blood to that area. Release the blockage, and all that blood flows back into the area in question. More blood flow = swole. But more importantly, we want increased blood flow! Increased blood flow means more oxygen, more nutrients getting to your cells, waste being easily transported out of your cells, easier body temperature regulation, and a slower time to reach fatigue, just to name a few. (As a side note, one of the awesome benefits of massage is increased blood flow).

Fascial Shear

Let’s start off with a couple of quick definitions, just to ensure everyone is on the same page:

Fascia:a thin sheath of fibrous tissue enclosing a muscle or other organ.

Shear: a strain in the structure of a substance produced by pressure, when its layers are laterally shifted in relation to each other.

Your muscles are essentially wrapped and layered in fascia. These layers of tissue should move and slide on each other to create movement. Lack of movement, injury, or overuse can cause adhesions in these tissues, which will cumulatively lead to difficulty of movement, among other potential things. (Sidenote: Gil Hedley gives an excellent overview of what he calls ‘fuzz’. Spend 5 minutes watching his video “The Fuzz Speech“. It will give you an excellent visual of fascia.) 

When we’re talking about fascia and the Voodoo Floss, we’re looking at a type of fascial shear. By wrapping the floss around the joint in question, we’re creating a compression of the tissues in the area. When we combine that compression with movement (either passive or active), we’re creating fascial shear, which breaks up the adhesion in the tissue.

 

 

Header image via

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Good resources for learning about your body

When it comes to the body, there’s a lot to learn about. It is a pretty complicated and interesting machine, and the more I learn, the more I realize I have to learn about it. When I work with clients on their pain or mobility issues, I try to explain a bit of what’s happening and why, to help them understand what is going on in their body.  Many follow up by asking me for resources to check out so they can learn more. To keep everything all in one place with a handy list, I’ve listed some of my favorites below. Along with the few resources (at the top) that are great for almost everyone, I’m including some of my favorite massage and bodywork resources, too.

This list will be updated periodically, as I find new resources (and as I remember!)

  1. Netter’s Atlas of Human Anatomy
  2. Trail Guide to the Body
  3. Anatomy Trains
  4. Fascial Release for Structural Balance
  5. Yoga Anatomy
  6. Orthopedic Assessment in Massage Therapy
  7. Orthopedic Massage, Theory and Technique
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