Hand Numbness Could Be Caused by a Tight Neck
In the age of “text neck”—a condition of stress or pain in the neck caused by a forward head position and rounded shoulders from looking at phones and devices all day—many of us spend too much time in this compromised posture, which can lead to muscle imbalances.
“To keep it simple, the muscles that are on the front side of the neck—the ones responsible for flexing the neck—become stretched, and the muscles in the back of the neck—the ones responsible for extending the neck [the scalenes]—become tight,” explains Joe Yoon, C.P.T., L.M.T., author of Better Stretching: 9 Minutes a Day to Greater Flexibility, Less Pain, and Improved Performance.
The scalenes are a group of three muscles that run vertically along the side of the neck. If they are tight, he says, it can have a direct effect on the network of nerves that pass through them, the brachial plexus. This network is responsible for the nerves that run down your arm, so if you’re experiencing hand numbness, it could be traced all the way back to a tight neck.
“Tightness or a knot in those muscles can compress the nerves that go to the hand, causing numbness or tingling in the fingertips,” explains Natacha Vidal, L.M.T., CEO of Phila Massages in Philadelphia. “Addressing trigger points, more commonly known as ‘muscle knots,’ with massage, self-massage, and stretching can help release compressed nerves and decrease or completely get rid of numbness or tingling,” she says.
To alleviate tightness and knots in the scalenes, the three-pronged approach of stretching, self-massage, and strengthening the deep neck flexor muscles can correct forward head posture. “Often, the best results come from a combination of these techniques,” says Vidal.
Here are three exercises you can do to stretch, massage, and strengthen your neck muscles to banish hand numbness for good. You will need a chair and a massage ball. You can use whatever you have on hand such as a lacrosse ball, a baseball, an Acumobility Ball, or even just your fingertips.
1. Scalene Stretch
Start seated in a chair with good posture. Place right fingertips on the left side of the head. Look up, and using your right hand, gently guide your neck to the right as though dropping your right ear to the right shoulder. You should feel a stretch in the left side of your neck. Hold this stretch for 20 to 30 seconds, then repeat on the other side.
2. Scalene Trigger Point Release
After you have stretched your scalenes, move on to trigger point therapy, which is a form of self-massage. This technique involves the application of gentle, sustained pressure to tight muscles or muscle knots.
Start by locating the scalenes by looking up, bending your head to the side, and feeling for the muscles protruding out the side of your neck with your hand. The muscles you’re looking for are the same ones in which you felt the stretch earlier. Feel along the length of this muscle for areas of tenderness or tension. When you find one of these areas, use a ball or even just pressure from your fingertips to gently compress the area. Maintain this pressure on the tender spots for 20 to 30 seconds. Repeat on the other side.
3. Deep Neck Flexor Hold
Once you have gotten the scalene muscles to relax, it’s time to work on strengthening the muscles that run vertically next to your windpipe known as the deep neck flexors. Strengthening these muscles will help alleviate tight scalenes by correcting head posture.
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“Since the neck flexors are always in a stretched position, it’s a great idea to strengthen those muscles to help mitigate the effects of forward head posture,” says Yoon.
Start by lying faceup with your knees bent, your neck relaxed and your chin tucked as though you were trying to give yourself a double chin. Try to completely straighten the back of your neck and press it into the floor. From this position, gently apply pressure to push your head and neck into the floor. You should feel this in the musculature on either side of your windpipe, the deep neck flexors. Hold this pressure for 30 seconds. Repeat for five sets.