June 17, 2009

The Forgotten Muscle

My nominee for the most forgotten muscle is the tricep. Sight unseen on the back of the arm, it can create finger and arm tingles so gnarly even experienced therapists are convinced it is C6 compression in action.

How do we take it for granted? Many times the first basic Swedish massage we learn skips the tricep completely. Then on top of that, many therapists are so concerned with the bicep and its tendons the tricep is forgotten completely. Yet the tricep hides a somatic funhouse of trigger points that can not only affect the neck but also cause some darn interesting tingles in the hands.

Before I became a massage therapist, I worked – no slaved – at a computer for most of the day. They were the old computers with metal-to-metal contact keys that caused a lot of vibration echoing up the arms. The tricep, it turned out, keeps your average computer gnome in position to type away, which means it has a very static, isometric role in computer posture. Not knowing much about anatomy, and even less about somatics, the importance of the tricep completely eluded me. My tricep never really got a full contraction or stretch, and simply toiled in its isometric little crunch all day. Then when I drove the car, it continued to toil. Poor triceps, they got no respect.

I didn’t appreciate the role of the tricep in hand troubles, really, until well after massage school when I worked on another therapist who was having hand tingles – chiefly in the palm and fingers. This therapist did massage half-time and also worked on a computer doing accounting for small businesses. The therapist was convinced that the problem came from C6 compression, but I was not so sure. While in the prone position, I put the arms aside at 45 degrees from the body with a rolled towel supporting the acromium and humerus. I did some compressive effleurages. As I pushed up to the shoulder, the tingles got a little worse, then got a little better. I used the flat part of my forearm to clear out the big trigger points, my buddy therapist’s hands tingling away.

The tricep stretch felt like a door opening that you didn’t even know was closed. The palm and arm tingles cleared out. There was still plenty to do in the forearm and shoulder girdle, but the hand tingles left with the tricep trigger points.

Since then, the tricep is forgotten no more. Everyone uses a computer, drives, pretty much nailing the triceps to indentured servitude. Clearing the triceps has made a lot of seemingly carpal problems clear out.

I assume I have a lot to learn about hand and arm tingles, as well as cervical compression, but as a rule I now prop up the humerus and clear the triceps. Saves me a lot of work.

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