Tight Hands are Weak Hands
When I did my original training in clinical Pilates I was taught the importance of weight-bearing exercise, for bone-loading, upper body strength, coordination from practising opposite-limb movements. I had many clients who struggled getting their hands down because of arthritis, carpal tunnel syndrome or general pain in the wrists or maybe shoulder issues, and since I believed the priority at that time was strengthening I’d suggest using wedges under the wrists, going on their knuckles, perhaps using mini parallettes to take the pressure off, even hands on the wall instead of kneeling. I might still suggest any one of those tactics if someone is experiencing pain but I have a very different priority with weight bearing exercise now. Well, it’s still strengthening, but I have a different understanding of hand anatomy; tight hands are weak hands, so if I’m encouraging strength in muscles and connective tissues then I want length in them too.
In my own fitness journey I’ve been interested in hand balancing for some time now, and was introduced through dabbling in yoga, gymnastics training, acro-balance, biomechanics and now Animal Flow to many weird and wonderful hand and wrist movements. In 2018 I attended a workshop with Katy Bowman of Nutritious Movement, called Strong Shoulders for a Strong Core. A lot of it was spent looking at how our hands (and in particular our thumbs) will affect what happens at the elbows and shoulders, and how that might relate to our core strength. Statistically, the thumb joint has the highest chance of developing osteo-arthritis, so noticing what your thumbs do is useful.
If you’re wondering why hand mobility matters to pretty much everyone, I’d say most of my clients have something they like to do that might be affected by their hand mobility, or a pain issue that they might not realise could be helped by improving hand strength or motor control. I’ve set out a quote below from a client I saw a few years ago:
“At one of her Pilates classes Georgina showed us a range of exercises to increase hand and wrist mobility. I was intrigued because the movements she demonstrated were often different to those I had been shown by physiotherapists to help relieve osteoarthritis in my wrists and hands. Keen to find out more I arranged a one-to-one session so that I could find out more about the techniques that might help improve my flexibility, build up strength around the affected joints and help with pain relief. I took my mobile phone with me to record the exercises and since then have done a selection of them on most days – they’re now part of my daily routine. I have been really pleased with the results. The pain in my wrists (which was mainly located at the base of my thumb) has virtually vanished and I no longer wear the supports that I used to use for gardening and other activities that required a lot of wrist action. My hands are also much improved and although there are still times when they stiffen up I now feel that I have access to effective routines which I know work for me in helping ease the stiffness and discomfort.” Gill Anderson
After that my friend who likes to knit suggested I do an e-book (still a work in progress, but I will make it available on the website soon) as the knitting/sewing/craft community often comment on thumb strain, forearm pain, neck stiffness or shoulder pain from the repetitiveness of their favourite hobby.
More recently, and this was the reason I decided to put together a workshop, my good friend recently completed her massage training and most of the way through her course she and her colleagues noticed thumb discomfort and clicking joints. She asked whether there was any advice I could give… “I thought you’d never ask!” I said with glee.
One of my newest clients is a dentist by trade and enjoys playing the saxophone as a hobby. An old injury has left her with an impressive winging shoulder blade, and whilst she’s seen huge improvements through working with her personal trainer (big-up Laura Hollywood you star! Follow her on Instagram here), we noticed during an Animal Flow session that her hands are tight in places, and she commented that there have been times when her hands have locked up or stiffened. My suggestion is that potentially a weakness in her shoulders and over-gripping at the hands is tiring the smaller muscles and leaving the connective tissue tight.
I could go on with examples, in fact I can’t think of many jobs, hobbies or life activities that don’t involve our hands. Many of us type a lot, maybe sometimes we’re old school and still write with an actual pen. Perhaps you cut hair or decorate cakes or you’re into climbing. Whatever it is, if you haven’t considered the strength, mobility and dexterity of your hands, I recommend you do!