Self Care – Stiff, Swollen Hands in the Morning

Stiff and swollen hands are usually a problem when one sleeps on their back (as is often recommended) with their arms by their side. Some people avoid this problem, as well as “numbing and tingling in their arms and hands” by sleeping on their side, sleeping ontheir back or putting their hands above their head. Sleeping with your hands above your head is a classic sign of tight scalenes.

Don’t rely on that in the long term. Without treatment, a change in movement or corrective exercises The problem only gets worse and more complicated.

This can come on gradually from habitual activities. Habitually sitting while leaned forward, especially with your hips pulled forward, can lead to changes in breathing patterns that use the front of the neck to lift the rib cage and develop strong, short scalenes. Competitive swimming and some musicla instruments, like flute or violin, can also change the scalenes to be more dominant in breathing patterns.

This is usually perpetuated by pulling one’s head forward to read, work on a laptop, drive while the seat is leaned back, etc. Adjust your ergonomics. Your parents were right. You need to sit up straight.

This can come on quickly from something that jerks the base of the neck and elevates the upper ribs. This might be a dog tbhat jerks on a leash, whiplash or sports.

Also, if you awaken with numb arms that are difficult to move, try shrugging your shoulders in a circular motion. This movement usually restores neurovascular flow the arms without the awkwardness of trying to get out of bed or roll around without using your arm(s).


triangle pose from yogabasics.com

If you’re a yoga practitioner, avoid overusing your scalenes while breathing. Primarily, avoid breathing that lifts your collar bone or makes the muscles in your neck stand out. 

In this triangle pose, she can’t quite get her head turned all the way (which is usually an upper cervical problem) and therefore can’t get a stretch on the scalene muscles unless she over-extends her head.

Here are a few exercises to retrain breathing, lengthen scalenes and help to free those upper ribs:

The exercise in this post is really great for releasing tension in the head, neck and upper back. It is particularly good at strengthening the muscle that lower shoulders and releasing the muscles that keep them high and tight.


Click here to get relief at home with some quick stretches. This set of stretches target the middle and anterior scalene muscle for quick relief. These are easier to do when time is short and/or you don’t have ice on hand.


For a more complete stretch
click here.
These stretches take a little longer but do a more complete job of stretching scalenes.


Breathing Exercises for Upper Back Pain

This post on breathing exercises is a proven therapy approach for retraining the breathing pattern, loosening fixated rib heads and releasing the underlying factors that perpetuate trigger points in muscles around the rib cage.


Scalenes are ideally placed so that they pull up on the rib and cinch around the nerves and blood vessels when you use them to breathe. Research strongly indicates that an elevated rib will perpetuate scalene trigger points and thoracic outlet syndrome.

If you’re not getting relief from these simple exercises, your trigger point specialist is trained to deal with perpetuating factors and help you get lasting relief.


and some related posts…


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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