Self Care – Seated Stretches for Stiff, Swollen Hands

Here are some specific stretches that have been recommended by many sources over the years. Clinical experience has proven them to be effective for helping people who awaken with stiff and swollen hands.

The anterior and middle scalene entrap the neurovascular structures that feed the upper extremity. This post is specific to stretchs that are easy to implement at a your desk or seated in a chair at your hotel room.

These stretches are useful before bed or on rising, but if you wake in the middle of the night with stiff hands and numb arms, start by rotating your shoulders in circle to restore neurovascular flow to your arms so that they will move again.


This post shows you how to use ice to stretch with less pain, in less time with more effective results.



Prepare with these Stretches

Tight scalenes are usually a part of the greater problem of Forward-Head Posture. That means that the muscle at the top of your neck, in the back, are usually short and strong. This pulls your head down in the back and justs your chin forward. The two stretches help release the upper neck so that your head can move back over your hips when you release the scalenes in the front of your neck.

Stretch your neck at the top.

Ice along the base of your head and then tuck your chin to pull up on the skin in the back of your neck. Don’t pull your head won toward your chest.

Stretch the top of your neck a little more completely.

Ice along the base of your head, over on the side, by your ear. Turn your nose toward the side you iced and then lean away from that side. Again, don’t pull your head down toward your chest, just tilt it so that pull up on the skin that runs from down toward your shoulder blade.

Do this on both sides.

Stretch those powerful muscles that help pull your head forward.

Ice the Sternocleidomastoid. It’s the long muscle that runs from behind your ear to the middle of your collar bone. It stands out in this picture because we’re stretching the other one. After icing the surface, turn your head toward the side you’ve iced.

Do both sides. The one that lays closer to your neck when you’re facing forward is tighter. Stretch it twice as much.



The Main Stretch

You’ve loosened the muscles that are most likely to support the problem. Now, loosen the anterior and medial scalene.

Turn your chin away from the side you want to stretch and lift the edge of your jaw upward. Focus on lifting the jaw more than tilting your head back. Try to take your head toward the ceiling so that you pull the skin all the way down into your chest.

Do this on both sides, but do it twice as much on the side that is tight or extra sensitive to the ice.


Feeling some sensation into your torso and arm? Getting some sensation into the scalene referral areas is a good sign. It doesn’t always happen but it indicates that the trigger points are activated by the stretch. It doesn’t happen as much when you use the ice, as ice inhibits that irritation generated by trigger points. Most commonly, people feel it in the hand and upper back.

Watch these stretches on video to see how the ice is used and the speed of stretches.

Tony Preston has a practice in Atlanta, Georgia where he sees clients. He has written and taught about anatomy, trigger points and cranial therapies since the mid-90s.

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