Musicians' Health Collective

Musicians' Health Collective: Supporting the health of musicians (and normal people)

Flexors of the Wrist and Fingers

Another old school Gray's Anatomy picture, with the flexor digitorus profundum highlighted.

Another old school Gray's Anatomy picture, with the flexor digitorus profundum highlighted.

Sometimes, after a long day of practice or rehearsal, you can see musicians massaging their forearms and the muscles near the elbow.  Why?  Five key long flexors of the wrist and fingers originate in the elbow region, either at the bottom of the humerus or the ulna.  While their names are a mouthful, they are an essential part of how most of us make music every day!

Flexor Carpi Radialis: flexes the wrist

Palmaris Longus: flexes the wrist and helps flex the elbow

Flexor Carpi Ulnaris: flexes the wrist, adducts the wrist, and flexes the elbow

Flexor Digitorum Profundus: assists in flexing the wrist and and flexing second through fifth fingers, originates at the humerus (upper arm bone), radius, and ulna and attaches in the phalanges (in the fingers)

Flexor Digitorum Superficialis: flexes the second through fifth fingers and flexes the wrist, originates in the ulna and attaches in the fingers

Now, if none of that made sense to you, that's ok.  But you can probably tell that the big winners for musicians are these last two, the flexor digitorums.  No matter what your instrument is (sorry singers), your fingers bend to push keys, press the string, hold the stick, turn the page, or hold the baton.  Whether you have experienced tendonitis, nerve compression, or just feel tight after a long day or week of playing, tight flexors can definitely put an extra burden on your wrists and hands.  In addition, add to that poor posture while typing, texting, driving, biking, and anyone's wrists would be unhappy.  So what can we do about that right now?  Give it some love.

In addition to my rapid-fire photoshop painting skills, It turns out to be difficult to photograph one's own arm, fyi.

In addition to my rapid-fire photoshop painting skills, It turns out to be difficult to photograph one's own arm, fyi.

Exploring the Forearm Musculature

1. Place your hand around position one, or the border of your elbow.  You should feel muscle under there, and not pure bone.  Start to extend and flex and the hand and wrist being held, noticing the muscles that "jump" underneath your fingers.  The muscles on the top of the forearm, nearest the number one, are your extensors, and the muscles on the ulnar side are some of your wrist and finger flexors.  Maybe the flexors of your hand/wrist aren't as sensitivitve as your extensors- get curious!  Dig in and start to give yourself a little pressure point massage, especially if you find some tight areas of myofascial tissue.

2.  Using your thumb, start to make broad strokes in line with the fuschia lines, leading upwards towards the X.  If the skin crinkles under your pressure, even better!  Certain types of bodywork such as skin rolling, work to separate the most superficial tissue of the epidermis from the underlying superficial fascia.  It might feel a little weird, but give it a try.    If you find some especially tender spots, just press in with as firm or gentle a touch as you need.  Make sure to work on the far ulnar border of the forearm, near the number 2, since the pinky side of your hand works hard too!

3.  Stay away from the X.  That's your carpal tunnel, which is famous for carpal tunnel syndrome, but more importantly, where your flexor tendons (connecting muscle to bone!) pass through, as well as your median nerve.  You don't want nor need to "stretch" this area out, nor should you put direct pressure on it.  (PS. if you're tolerant of cadaver dissection, the wikipedia page has some human body pics on the bottom of this area.  Not really for the faint of heart, but super interesting.)

There are many, many, many more ways to access these flexors, and this is just the beginning.  (And don't forget to do both sides and notice the difference!)

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