If your neck pain, back pain and/or carpal tunnel pain have you turning to drugs or surgery for relief, try a simple exercise instead. Many of the most common injuries and disorders affecting joints, muscles, tendons, ligaments and/or nerves can be prevented, and often relieved, with targeted exercises and stretches. These work as massage for your muscles. (If the exercise or stretch starts to hurt, ease up.) To get the best exercise for each ailment, our editors turned to Joel Harper, a personal trainer in New York City who designs workouts for Olympic athletes, celebrities, musicians and business executives, and is the creator of the PBS best-selling DVDs Firming After 50 and Slim & Fit (www.JoelHarperFitness.com).
CARPAL TUNNEL PAIN
Carpal tunnel syndrome is caused by pressure on the median nerve that passes through a narrow “tunnel” in the wrist. Even a small amount of swelling or inflammation in this area can cause numbness, tingling and weakness. People who perform repetitive motions of the hand and wrist—such as assembly-line workers and those who often use computers, smartphones and the like—have a high risk of getting it. Exercises that help...
Wrist twists. Get down on your hands and knees. Rotate your hands so that your middle fingers on each hand are facing directly toward the same knee, thumbs on the outside. Keep your elbows soft and your head down. Maintain this position for about five deep inhales. It helps to gently relax into the position. Gradually walk your knees away from your fingers to increase your stretch.
Wrist circles. This movement “opens up” the wrist and reduces tightness. With your elbows bent, hold both hands in front of your torso, with the palms facing up. Rotate your hands/wrists in a complete circle five times. Then do five more circles in the opposite direction. Important: It’s normal for one wrist to be tighter than the other. Rotating both wrists simultaneously a few times a day will help keep the muscles balanced.
This is another malady of the computer age. People who work on computers often spend hours in the same hunched-over position without taking breaks to stretch. Neck pain usually is caused by shoulder tension. Exercises that target the neck aren’t the most effective, because they don’t address shoulder tightness. Exercises that help…
Shoulder rolls. Stand straight with your arms relaxed at your sides. Roll your shoulders in a backward circle slowly five times. Then roll them forward five times.
Chicken wing. Place the back of your right hand on your right hip, with your palm facing out. Your elbow should jut out like a chicken wing. With your left hand on your right elbow, gently pull the right elbow toward your belly button. Keep your left and right shoulders at the same height. Hold the stretch for five deep inhales with your chest lifted, then repeat on the other side.
LOW BACK PAIN
The back stretches recommended by most trainers temporarily will relieve tightness and pain, but they don’t affect muscles in the hips. Tightness in the hips pulls the spine out of alignment, which can cause painful contractions in muscles in the lower back. Exercises that help…
Hip rolls. Stand up straight with your hands on your hips and your feet perfectly together. Make a complete circle with your hips, rotating to the right. Do this five times. Repeat in the other direction.
Wall hammock. Sit on the floor with your back against a wall, your left foot flat on the floor and your left knee bent. Cross your right ankle over your left knee. From this position, slide your tailbone toward the base of the wall to cause a stretch. Hold the position for about 20 seconds, then relax. Switch legs, and do the stretch again.
This is a painful inflammation of the plantar fascia, the band of connective tissue that runs from the heel bone along the bottom of the foot toward the toes. An exercise that helps…
Toe rolls. Stand up straight with your hands on your waist. Keeping the toes of your right foot on the floor, raise the right heel. Rotate your right knee in a circle, keeping the toes as motionless as possible on the floor. Repeat five times clockwise and five times counterclockwise. Repeat with the other foot.
Shoulders often hurt because of inflammation or a small tear in the ligaments that make up the rotator cuff, the four major muscles and tendons in the shoulder. Start by doing shoulder rolls, described above. Another exercise that helps…
Shoulder squeezer. Lie on the floor on your right side, with your knees slightly bent. Prop your right arm up on your tricep, with the back of the upper part of your arm flat on the floor and the fingers of your hand pointing up. Place your left hand on the back of your right wrist, and very gently press until your right palm is going toward the floor. Hold for three deep inhales, relax and then repeat once. Then switch sides.
They’re common in runners and those who engage in stop-and-start sports, such as tennis, soccer and basketball. Repetitive and excessive force on the muscle on top of the shinbone (the same muscle that lifts the toes) can cause inflammation and/or “micro-tears” in the muscle fibers. An exercise that helps…
Toe lifts. This is among the best exercises for reducing tightness in the muscle and, in some cases, helping shin splints heal more quickly. Do this exercise very slowly and only if you don’t have knee problems. (If you have knee problems, talk with your doctor or a physical therapist.)
Grab a towel, and roll it up like a hot dog. Kneel on the floor so that you’re sitting on your heels and place the rolled-up towel under your ankles while keeping your shins flat on the floor. (The towel should lift your ankles up.) Lean back slightly, keeping your shoulders over your hips, until you feel a stretch. (If you don’t feel a stretch, gradually move the towel back until you do.) Relax gently into the pose without forcing it. Hold the stretch while you inhale deeply five to 10 times.