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Planning Retirement Online

Home Exercise and Rehab

January 2014


Gina John

Gina John is a Pilates Practitioner and Registered Osteopath who has spent many years offering help and advice, especially to the over 50 age group.

She is founder of The Osprey Clinic in the St. Johns Wood area of London and now specialises in Home Exercise and Rehabilitation Programmes. For further advice on exercising safely, and a selection of exercise films for general fitness and medical conditions, visit the website:



This month: Easing Tightness in your Triceps.

Q: About a month ago, I strained the back of my arm down to the elbow, while reaching up to a high kitchen cupboard. Although the soreness has resolved, the upper arm still feels tight when carrying or reaching out and occasionally, I feel a tingling sensation on the back of my hand. Can you please advise me on which exercises would help to resolve this problem?

A: Straining the arm or shoulder area, while reaching up to a high shelf or cupboard is a common injury. Of course, with the benefit of hindsight, we would all ensure that we stood on a small ladder or chair to reach instead of overstretching the arm!

The muscle at the back of the arm which connects the shoulder bone (scapula) to the back of the elbow is the Triceps. As the name suggests, it is composed of 3 muscle bellies and nerves run through the muscle to serve it and other muscles in the arm as well as sensation to part of the hand. Therefore, a strain to the Triceps may not only affect the muscles directly, but may also cause the limb to feel weakened as well as cause altered sensation in the hand, due to some nerve impingement.

Often, prior to a strain of this nature the muscle has become tight through some other activities and it is the proverbial ‘straw that breaks the camel back’ scenario, when you attempt to reach out for something, overstretching a muscle which is already tight.

Commonly, working at the computer or holding a book while reading for long periods, leads to chronically tight upper arms and shoulder muscles as they are forced to take on a postural role for which they are poorly designed.  Also, keeping a position, while working with your hands, such as washing up or peeling potatoes, can make the upper arms and shoulder tight.

Following a strain of this nature, it is important to move the arm gently, within the pain-free range of movement, soon after the injury. As the inflammation subsides, with the help of an ice pack or anti-inflammatory medication, you can start some gentle stretching exercises. Strengthening exercises are necessary to recondition the muscle and enable it to function efficiently again.  It is inadvisable to start strengthening exercises until the inflammation has resolved and the area is pain free.

When symptoms of tightness or stiffness continue or if you continue to feel neurological symptoms, such as numbness, coldness or pins and needles in your hand, it is likely that you have not reconditioned the muscle to function efficiently or perhaps, or if you have been unable to rest the arm in the initial stages of the injury.

If you have been diagnosed with arthritis in the neck, shoulder or any joints in the arm or hand, it may take longer for the strained muscle to recover fully.  Generally, muscles which are associated with the movement of an arthritic joint will take a little longer to recover, since they may have to overwork to help give support to the joint. Furthermore, the muscle may have to constantly adapt to compensations made by the body as a result of the compromised joint.

When practised daily, the exercises given below will help to strengthen and condition the Triceps muscle. If symptoms persist after exercising for two weeks, you should consult your GP or physiotherapist to evaluate your symptoms further.

Shoulder circles:
While sitting or standing, lift your shoulders towards your ears, then pull them back and press them down towards the back of your waist. Then, pull them forwards again and repeat 10 times. Try to keep your head and neck still, while just moving your shoulders.


Arm Beats:
Standing or sitting on a stool. Sit up straight with your arms alongside the body. Turn the palms of your hands back, and keep your hands behind the body while you repeatedly beat your arms. Exhale as you beat the arms back.  Repeat up to 50 times, while pressing your shoulders down, away from your ears.  Also, try to keep pulling in your abdominal muscles, by scooping in the navel towards the spine and avoid arching your back.

Triceps Stretch:
Sitting or standing, take your right arm up and bend your elbow to bring your fingertips between the shoulder blades.  Simultaneously, take your left arm down and try to link the fingers of your right hand. If you cannot link the fingers of the left and right hands together, take a small towel to hold between your hands, behind the body.  Exhale to reach your right arm up towards the ceiling, stretching out of the waist and the right side of the body.  Hold the stretch for 30 seconds, while pulling in your abdominal muscles firmly.

Sitting Chair Twist:
Sit upright, and draw back the abdominal muscles, scooping the navel towards the spine.
Twist your body to the right, taking the right arm behind the back of the chair while the left hand assists in holding the rotated position by pressing onto the right thigh. Hold the position and take 3 deep breaths, while pressing the shoulders blades down towards the back or your waist. Then, repeat the exercise, turning your body to the left.
It’s a good idea to do this exercise, to take a break from the computer every 20-30 minutes!


See all Gina's Home Exercise and Rehab features

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