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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.