Musculoskeletal Health Update
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Each issue is focused on a common muscle pain or dysfunction and the trigger point self-care techniques you can use to help alleviate it. Look forward to tips for relieving headaches, heel pain, runners' injuries, TMJ, growing pains in children, neck pain, back pain and more. Enjoy this feature on the Triceps Brachii. Empower yourself and pass it on to others you love!
Elbow Pain, the 3-Headed Monster & Dad's Favorite Sport
Golf and tennis are two sports that are known for their dependence on a properly functioning elbow joint. Even in medicine, we often refer to pain on the inside of the elbow as "Golfer's Elbow" (medial epichondylitis) and pain on the outside of the elbow as "Tennis Elbow" (lateral epichondylitis). These nicknames reveal just how intrinsically linked these sports are with the elbow.
What is less well-known is that a muscle you can treat yourself can cause many issues of elbow pain, strength and coordination. This week we highlight the Triceps Brachii muscle for its importance in our recreational activities and its role in causing unnecessary pain in many patients' lives. Sometimes referred to as the "Three-Headed Monster", easily treatable myofascial trigger points in the Triceps Brachii can be the bane of sports enthusiasts' performance and many of our activities of daily living.
*The information in this article is not intended to diagnose or treat any medical condition and does not substitute for a thorough evaluation by a medical professional. Please consult your physician to determine whether these self-care tips are appropriate for you.
President Kennedy's personal physician, Janet Travell, identified the following simple tests to determine the function of the Triceps Brachii muscle. Follow the instructions below to get a good idea of whether myofascial trigger points might be harming your elbow, tennis or golf game:
TEST 1: Triceps Range of Motion Test
Flex your elbow until your palm touches your shoulder. Then using your opposite hand, raise the elbow as far as it will go comfortably (as shown in the pictures below).
A Passing result is when the elbow can flex back behind the ear with the head over the shoulders, looking straight ahead. A Failing result occurs when the elbow is restricted from moving comfortably behind the ear.
TEST 2: Triceps Reach for the Sky Test
Best if performed while looking into the mirror, raise both arms straight up overhead. If one or both arms cannot raise until the elbow is straight and the arm is flush with the ear, this Failing result again indicates myofascial dysfunction of the Triceps Brachii. The patient in the picture fails on the right side and passes on the left side.
TEST 3: Triceps Palpation
Most important of all, palpation (the medical term for pressing, feeling and squeezing to evaluate body tissue) is a simple and effective test to determine whether your Triceps Brachii suffer from myofascial trigger points. Using the tips of your fingers, as illustrated below, press into the back of your upper arm and feel for tender spots and tight bands of muscle (trigger points), indicating a Failing result.
Especially meaningful is if you press on the Triceps and pain or numbness sensations occur in another part of your arm, forearm, shoulder, or even neck. This pain is called Referred Pain, and is a classic indication of myofascial dysfunction. Pain and weakness in other areas of the shoulder, neck, arm and hand can result from trigger points in the Triceps Brachii, mimicking health conditions such as arthritis, bursitis, tendonitis, Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, Golfer's Elbow, Tennis Elbow, and more. These trigger points can significantly affect your athletic performance, as well as your activities of daily living.
3-Step Simple Self-Care Remedies
The myofascial health of your Triceps Brachii Muscle is in your hands - literally! If any of the tests above were positive for myofascial dysfunction, the following self-care instructions can benefit you significantly. Spending a few minutes a day may improve the range of motion and function of your elbow ... maybe even your golf score or tennis serve!
Step 1: Warming Up with Moist Heat (optional)
The taut bands of muscle (trigger points) you will be treating often greatly appreciate some moist heat to soften them up. This heat can be applied in the form of a warm shower, a towel that has soaked in warm water, or our favorite moist heat product, the Fomentek Bag, as shown below.
Step 2: Compression
Use a Tiger Tail self-care tool (a tennis ball can substitute, as well, though the Tiger Tail has many other useful applications). Place the Tiger Tail between your Triceps and the wall (as shown) and lean into it. Slowly roll up and down and side to side, looking for tender points in the Triceps. When a tender point is found, lean into the tool with just enough pressure to feel the tenderness but not cause you to withdraw from the pain. Hold for 10 seconds while completing at least two full breaths in and out. Continue searching for more tender areas until you have covered the entire Triceps.
Step 3: Stretching Your Triceps
Identical position to Test #1. Place the palm on the shoulder (as shown) and the raised elbow against the wall. Lean gently into the wall, attempting to bring the elbow up to the ear. When a good stretch is felt without significant pain, hold the position for 20 - 30 seconds. Relax 5 seconds. Then repeat 2 more times.
These three steps can be repeated daily (or as recommended by a healthcare practitioner). Take notice of how your trigger points in your Triceps Brachii and any elbow pain you may be experiencing respond. As always, seek the advice of a qualified healthcare practitioner before engaging in self-care activities. Report any changes in your symptoms on a regular basis, so your practitioner can monitor you.