Managing arms is something of a fickle process. Everyone presents with different symptoms, responds differently, and discovers different methods in order to help themselves recover faster.
Fortunately for you, I’ve happened to work with several populations that not only need their hand and arms in order to excel athletically, but continually happen to run into “trouble” of sorts due to the sport that they play in.
- Powerlifters may develop tension in the elbows due to excessive amounts of volume with pushing and pulling exercises.
- Pitchers may develop tension essentially anywhere down the line from the neck all the way down to the wrist flexors and extensors as a cause of excessive amounts of throwing volume.
- And not surprisingly, dancers, specifically bboys and bgirls, may develop tension in their wrists, hands, forearms, elbows, triceps/biceps, and shoulders from excessive flare, windmill, turtle, airchair, one-handed halos, and airflare practice and other similar movements where your whole bodyweight is on one hand.
However, one thing many people do is put a band-aid on the problem, not specifically addressing the root cause of the issue.
Various Solutions to Relieving Soreness
Whenever the idea of “inflammation” comes into play, people often have a three knee-jerk reaction as a solution to such a terrible word:
- Ibuprofen or Aspirin
- “Resting” the Muscle Group
- Icing the Muscle Group
OTC Drugs: Knee-Jerk Reaction #1
Aspirin goes to relieve inflammation by inhibiting or reducing the reactions of certain enzymes that lead to other chemicals from forming – ultimately ending up with a reduction in the inflammatory response.
Ibuprofen and aspirin definitely works in that front, but at the same time I personally can’t look to use an external chemical that aims to reduce the formation of specific chemicals from forming for two reasons.
One – inflammation may be warranted, but not on a global scale, in order to influence specific intra-cellular adaptations. And two – adapting to the dosage will require higher and higher levels of aspirin/ibuprofen in order to achieve a subjective effect (of reducing pain/inflammation/soreness).
Better Solution #1
Take Fish Oil. While taking fish oil has anti-inflammatory properties, it also boasts several other qualities that make this supplement a much more attractive quality than aspirin or ibuprofen.
Resting: Knee-Jerk Reaction #2
While this reaction serves those who are excessively moving and exercising, the idea of resting is to do just that – rest and not do anything.
Before I dissect this reaction, let me differentiate between two parts:
- Resting the whole body.
- Resting an individual specific part.
With the first option, there is a systemic “rest” that is often required in order to advance forward. This first option usually takes precedence for those who lack a full night’s worth of sleep (7-8 hours on average, if not more), or who may require more rest due to activity levels during waking hours.
The second option is more along the lines for those that develop repetitive strain injuries, which is what I’ll be referring to here on out.
At the end of the day however, “resting” is a farce of a prescription.
If you pull a hamstring, is there something you can do?
Of course – train upper body exercises.
If you break a hand, is there something you can do?
Of course – do everything else with the other hand, and perform lower body drills and exercises.
Completely shutting down and not doing anything but watching cartoons on a Saturday morning instead of working out may not be the most beneficial thing for your body when thinking about extreme human performance.
When taking this into account even from a mental level, you may be reducing your efficacy towards becoming a better athlete, dancer, or lifter, by not taking even the smallest steps forward.
Better Solution #2
By isolating the specific problem, and shutting down specific exercises that will obviously detract from recovery, you are more able to do two things:
- Provide control over your situation. Often with an injury, it is easy to become depressed because you aren’t moving around doing the thing you love to do most – with this option you can begin to see that movement is still an option and you do not have to always “shut down” in order to rest.
- If strength training, and you have a unilateral issue (hand, foot, knee) which is detracting from training, then you can still achieve benefits from training the other half of your body – perhaps anywhere up to 18-20% of increases in strength training due to neurological benefits!
Again, by shutting down your whole body, you may be short changing positive adaptations that can help with improving your craft of choice.
Icing: Knee-Jerk Reaction #3
Personally and anecdotally, I don’t see the need for icing. I’ve never iced, even with sprained ankles, sore wrists, or bum hips. Never felt a need to do it, and the evidence on icing is all over the place.
However, I can’t completely ignore the evidence, so here is some for you to check out!
- Examine.com goes over various methods of reducing DOMS, and lay out some reasons for icing.
- SaveYourself.ca goes over a large portion of the mechanisms for why you would ice, along with the goods and bads for icing as well.
To favor towards my bias that icing may not be beneficial…
A small 2013 study for severe muscle soreness had “unexpected” results, according to the researchers: it seemed to do more harm than good.9 The icing victims had higher blood levels of molecules associated with muscle injury and they felt more fatigued. Icing had no effect on recovery of strength, or any biochemical sign of inflammation. A small study, to be sure, but how good can icing be if it can generate this kind of data?
And another portion of that blog post:
What’s going on in a repetitive strain injury like runner’s knee or tennis elbow or Achilles tendinitis is not really inflammation, per se, except perhaps in the earliest stages…but erratically painful degeneration — tissue rot, which has more in common with arthritis than inflammation. The chemistry of these situations is very different than classic inflammation, and in particular involves relatively little immune system activity. The most obvious implication of this is that medicines intended to suppress immune system activity — the anti-inflammatories — are obviously not going to work well. And they don’t.
Better Solution #3
Don’t ice the specific issue that is causing you pain and/or discomfort.
However, let me provide another mechanism that may be contributing to this discomfort: neurological adaptation.
Or rather, your brain is telling you that this movement, stress, or what have you, is bad. So the brain sends (neurological) signals, along with releasing stress-related chemicals (hormones), in order to prevent that movement from occurring again, on top of increasing the musculoskeletal responses that will help to adapt to such a stressor the next time it happens.
However, not ALL movement is bad – we want to be able to pitch over and over in a game, and we want to make sure that we can deadlift if we need to. If you want to flip over and over without cause of injury, you want to make sure you do that as well.
In the case of our wrists, arms, and shoulders, managing arms may be the most helpful by utilizing this mechanism:
Applying slight pressure to a muscle bed does not have any specific intra-cellular mechanistic actions, such as adapting to ibuprofen, or reducing feelings in nerve endings (icing), but rather goes to reduce tension on a neurological level. And since you can control the action of this by varying the amounts of pressure, you can ultimately control how much benefit you can see out of this specific method.
As you can see, there are several methods that can go to serve towards reducing soreness. Specifically for dancers and athletes, I believe that managing arms and wrists will go to help the most with regards to immediate and impactful performance. So if you find yourself with a slightly sore forearm during practice, give the above method a try!
Keep it funky.