Body Mechanics, Massage, Shiatsu

Simple guide to arm and hand Pain

If you clicked through to this link there is a good chance that you get occasional hand and arm pain.  You may have tried to Massage your hands only to get no relief.  There’s a trick to this-pain in the hands almost never originates from the hands.  Hand pain is almost always referred from higher up on the body.

Culprit number one: The Forearms……

Pain in the hands often starts in the forearms. The joints of your hands are mostly surrounded by tendons that connect to muscles that are located in your forearms.  It is often the muscles in your forearm that are contracted and tug on the tendons in your hands.  The remedy is usually to stretch and massage your forearms.  In particular there are usually trigger points around your elbows.  To review, trigger points are little sore spots in the muscle belly that refer pain to another part of the body.

See the source image
Notice the white tissue over the fingers and hands-those are tendons and ligaments.  See how the white tissue connects to red muscles further up the arm. When those muscles get tight they tug on the tendons in your hands.
See the source image
Because of this connection between the muscles of the forearms and tendons in the hands you will notice some common referral patterns.  The T shows the trigger point and the red shows the referral patterns.

You do not need to memorize this chart.  I just want you to understand how this pain relationship works.  Go ahead, do your favorite arm stretches.  It’s always a good idea to self-massage around the elbow.

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I put the hurting arm down on the table.  I cross the other elbow over and place it on top of a sore spot.  I lean in and press for 3-5 seconds.

See arm massage video here.

Culprit number two: The shoulder. 

A lot of arm pain actually starts in the shoulder girdle.  There is a really good reason for this-the brachial plexus nerves starts up in your neck, goes under the clavicle and works it’s way down to your arm. Different branches of it go into your pecs, your armpit and back.  Often when you come into my office with arm pain I will check out your neck muscles, chest muscles, armpit muscles and back to see if we can find any referral patterns.   This is why it is erroneous to only think locally about hand pain.

Over the years, when I have had bouts of thumb pain it has been very important to have a Massage therapist work on my pectorals as well as dive into my armpits.

arm anatomy
As you can see the brachial plexus starts up in the neck, works its way under the clavicle and then down the arm.  It’s no wonder that tight muscles along this nerve pathway will cause discomfort in the arm and hand.

My clients are often surprised that a session treating arm pain will include the shoulder girdle.

This image shows the referral pattern of a trigger point in the pectorals.  The x is where the trigger point is and the red shows the referral pattern.

Stretch the shoulders for the good of your hands

This is why it is also important to stretch out the shoulders.  For Massage therapists our all time favorite stretch is the “Doorway stretch”  This opens up the shoulder girdle and allows blood flow to the hands.

Guess what I am usually doing when I am waiting for you to come out of the room?  That’s right, leaning into the stairwell doorway next to my office.

Keep those shoulders loose to keep your hands warm…..

As a side note, I’ve learned that opening the shoulders is key to keeping the hands warm on a cold day.  So much blood passes through the shoulder girdle that if you are tensed up whilst outside on a chilly day your hands will get cold.  Breath while raising and lowering those shoulders and you will notice your hands warm up. Swing your arms in front of you-it’s better than a hot pocket!

Same thing with biking

Similarly, you may  numbness notice tingling while riding your bicycle.  Most likely, the pain is not directly in your hands, but rather from crunching the shoulders in.  I find that if I can stretch my arms behind me while riding I can usually get better blood flow in my hands.

What about arthritis?

Arthritis is deterioration of cartilage of the bone.  Massage cannot reverse arthritis-however we can reduce the inflammation in the tissue surrounding the arthritis.  Sometimes the irritated tissue is as painful, if not more than the arthritis itself.  Also, I have formulated an ointment specifically for joint pain using trauma oil, essential oils of cardamom, ginger, and juniper. Read more about April’s Active Again Arthritis Antidote.

Hopefully, I’ve given you some insights into hand pain.  Self care is awesome and a Massage or Shiatsu from a trusted professional is even better.  All the best.

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