Stretches that keep the arms straight help those with Cubital Tunnel Syndrome open up the muscles that block healing.
1) The blood flow necessary for healing increases when the muscles in the chest and front of the shoulders are lengthened and relaxed. 2) Releasing the triceps tendon and it’s muscle attachments at the inner elbow (medial epicondyle) address two TrPs that refer pain into the elbow and down the arm to the 4th and 5th fingers. 3) Flexors of the fingers and wrist can trap the ulnar nerve between two layers of tense muscles or by pulling on a fibrous arch of tissue under which the nerve runs, pulling it tight against the nerve. Relaxing those muscles is essential to healing.
Stretching the chest and anterior shoulder with the arms straight:
1) Clasp hands behind back and squeeze shoulder blades together to roll the shoulders back. (If you can’t clasp hands, hold a pole or rope behind with the hands farther apart. Inhale deeply as you lift hands upward, keeping the shoulders back to open the chest wide and fill the lungs with air. Hold for two seconds, then exhale as you lower your arms. Repeat 10 times.
2) Lie on a foam roller either along the spine or across at bra strap level. a) Breathe slowly and deeply, changing the position of the arms from low to high. Hold still in each position to allow the muscles to relax with the breath. b) Do the “snow angel” slowly, inhaling up and exhaling down.
Stretching the triceps without bending the elbow: Lie on a foam roller lengthwise and extend your arm over your head and close to your ear with your thumb down closest to the floor. Breathe slowly as you focus on relaxing the triceps (back of the upper arm), letting gravity gradually bring it closer to the floor.
Now inhale, and as you exhale press your upper arm gently with your opposite hand to stretch the triceps at back of the armpit where it attaches. You can have someone assist you, holding the stretch for two seconds, backing off and repeating 10 times.
To be more aggressive, bend the arm as much as it’s comfortable with your palm turned toward the floor as you stretch. Keeping the arm in that position, bring it down to your side to allow the muscle to relax completely and the blood to flow in. The more you can bend the elbow the better. Increased length will be gained by doing this stretch with your hand on your shoulder the whole time.
Stretching the flexors of the fingers and hand: Extend your arm straight and support your elbow on a surface with your hand hanging off the side. Using your other hand, press on your palm to lengthen the tendons that cross the inner wrist. This will stretch the muscles that bend (flex) the wrist.
Then point your fingers toward the floor and pull back on them with your other hand to stretch the finger flexors. All of the stretches should be held for only two seconds. Relax and repeat 10 times each. In the absence of a table, just stretch with your arm extended out in front of you.
Daily warmups are beneficial before you stretch or exercise and aerobic activity will increase healing. See the next post for suggestions.
This is a series on arm and hand pain from my Neuromuscular Therapy center near Boston. If you missed the beginning, go back to the “Checklist of Causes.”