The bundle of nerves that exits the top of the spinal cord extends through the neck, where they branch off and rejoin to form the ulnar and median nerves of the arm and hand. The nerves send messages to the brain to initiate movement and feeling in the muscles and skin. Nerve damage at any point in the network of nerves can cause symptoms at other points, including numbness, loss of strength, tingling and pain. Strength training, which uses resistance to strengthen muscles and build bone density, can alleviate the symptoms of nerve damage and help with recovery from related conditions.
Strength training, also called resistance or weight training, increases strength, bone density, muscle tone and lean body mass. Strength training involves applying resistance to repeated contractions of the muscle. The resistance in strength training is provided by weights, bands or your own body weight. Proper form and the appropriate number of repetitions are important for effective strength training. For nerve damage, strength training can improve movement, decrease pain and help to maintain muscle strength while nerve damage heals. Your doctor might advise against strenuous exercises soon after nerve damage symptoms begin, especially for nerve damage and pain in the neck. Performing slow, gentle range-of-motion exercises for a period can help prepare your body to perform strength-training exercises safely.
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Muscles spasms or a slipped disk in the spinal column can press on or pinch nerves, causing neck pain and symptoms in the hand or arm. Cumulative trauma disorders, also called repetitive-strain injuries or musculoskeletal disorders, are overuse injuries caused by repetitive movements. The disorders are common in some sports or occupations. Repetitive movements can cause entrapment or compression of the radial, ulnar or median nerve at any point from the neck to the hand. Nerve compression in the wrist or neck can cause pain in the fingers. Tight muscles, misaligned nerves and tissue inflammation around the nerves also can cause nerve damage.
Begin with stretching exercises before performing strength-training exercises. Range-of-motion exercises for the neck involve moving your head side to side and up and down to stretch your neck muscles. Flex and stretch your fingers. Rest your arm on a table and allow your hand to hang off the edge. Flex your wrist to move the hand up and down until you feel the muscles stretch.
Items that you grip or squeeze provide the resistance required for strength-training exercises. Use grippers, tennis balls, putty or thick rubber bands stretched across the fingers. Open or close your hands, squeeze the balls or close and release the gripper.
Perform a flexion exercise for the wrist by holding a lightweight item, such as a small can, and placing your forearm on a flat surface, palm of the hand facing up. Curl your wrist inward, hold and release. Use the same hand-held weight to perform an extension exercise by placing the arm on a table, with the palm of the hand facing down. Flex the wrist upward, hold and release. Use a four count for the hold and the release.
Strength-training exercises for the neck include variations of the shoulder shrug using hand weights. Perform the dumbbell shrug by standing and placing your feet shoulder-width apart with knees slightly bent. With arms hanging at your sides, a weight in each hand, move your shoulders upward as if shrugging. Hold the shrug for one count and repeat the exercise eight to 12 times.
Perform the one-arm row by placing one knee on a bench and one foot on the floor. Bend forward and support your body with one hand on the bench. Hold the weight in your hand with your arm extended toward the floor. Raise the arm until it is parallel with your back. Hold the contraction for one count, lower and repeat. Other exercises using hand weights involve standing and raising both outstretched arms from your sides to shoulder height or bending the arms at the elbow before raising them.
- University of Pittsburgh: Musculoskeletal Disorders – Anatomy of an Injury
- Southern California Orthopedic Institute: Anatomy of the Hand and Wrist
- Cleveland Clinic: Strength Training
- The New York Times Health Guide: Ulnar Nerve Dysfunction
- MedlinePlus: Neck Pain
- Total Orthopaedic Care: Physical Therapy – Hand/Wrist Exercises
- Hand Health Resources: General Information - Exercise
- Harvard Medical School: Harvard Health Publications - Strength-Training Relieves Chronic Neck Pain
Is this an emergency? If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911.