Osteopath Dr Phil's Tips

Rusty Wrists & Aching Elbows


  • Flexors - Look at how our primate cousins move through their milieu. All of the strength of their hands is in the palm of the hand. There are no muscles at all on the back of the hand. Looking downwards at your upturned palms, the muscles between your hand and the crease of the elbow are extremely strong for gripping, lifting and carrying.
  • Extensors - By contrast, with the palms upwards only about ten percent of the forearm muscles are on the underneath. With the palms downwards these are very small and finely tuned: they simply lift the fingers after any stronger gripping movement. With your arm across the body you can feel these wriggling with the other hand as you wriggle the fingers.
  • Ergonomics - The body hates being held still for any length of time. Sadly the time we spend at the keyboard peering at the screen has doubled and redoubled in recent decades. This static over-bracing distresses the neck, shoulder girdle and trunk; with headaches and low back pain added to wrist and forearm troubles.
  • R.S.I. - With all of the rest of the body held still the work station slaves are just tapping away and jerking around a smallish lump of plastic. We realize this lump is actually bigger than a mouse; so this must be “rat shakers illness” --- with all of the aching wrists, forearms, shoulders and neck that go with it. Add in the work and social stresses and you are observing an inevitable slow-motion train wreck.
  • Must Move It - If you watch a good double bass player or pianist you will see how their whole shoulder and arm moves to create music, and their whole body does a subtle spiral into the rhythm of their performance. This may be poetry in motion to watch --- but when do you roll the shoulders, stand and stretch, go for a drink, stop to chat with a colleague, and shake out the tension in your arms?
  • Tennis Elbow - The tiny extensor muscles work along a very long leverage to move the wrist and fingers. They are stressed to the max by the backhand stroke at tennis. Micro-tears accumulate with clumsy and mistimed strokes; and the repair time is very slow close to where the muscles attach to the bone at the side of the elbow. This leads to much trouble and much treatment to get right. Plus, if rest and recoaching and then injections all fail, it may mean a change of sport!
  • Golfer’s Elbow - Swinging an axe to chop wood is an elegant smooth movement, and the forearms like it. Turning the body into a coordinated triple pendulum whilst gripping a shaft not much thicker than a pen is much more nerve-wracking. Here it is the flexor gripping muscles that are giving trouble: with the same range of treatment options. The frequency of hits at the driving range may be partly to blame.
  • Impacts and Rust - The “universal joint” movement at the wrist is transmitted through two arched rows of three and four very small bones. This unstable contraption is vulnerable to compression and impact. Often the sprained wrist seems to recover fully, but part of the ensemble remains jammed --- and the rest of the wrist gradually rusts and stiffens. This is, then, a major contributor to tennis and golfer’s elbow; and is nearly always overlooked.
  • Blessed Release - The hands, wrists and elbows release best when the fingers and thumbs are held in an expanded arch. Imagine each hand is glued to separate soccer or basketballs, and start small and then bigger slow circles. Slowly introduce elbow, shoulder and whole body movement until you have invented your own personal spontaneous tai-chi routine.

Don’t get arrested --- but if the wrist and joints creak a bit don’t worry. That is just the WD40 working it’s way in. Your highly skilled osteopath can really help release the stiff bits, condition the muscles, and promote ease of movement.