Exercise advice from the Tanger Be Well Center at BIDMC

A firm handshake can take you pretty far in life: a good job, the respect of colleagues, a better-controlled forehand on the tennis court. But have you ever stopped to wonder why? For starters, it’s important to know that the hand and shoulder are linked through neurological pathways originating in the brain.

Think of the hand gripping a tennis racket as a signal that tells the shoulder to be prepared. If we make a half-hearted effort at gripping an object, the shoulder (specifically the rotator cuff) will not take that information seriously. However, if we grip an object with force, the shoulder will understand that maximum stability is needed to complete a swing, or whatever task we’re engaged in.

Grip

This process is called irradiation – it’s the process in which muscles in one part of the body can be “recruited” by the actions of other body parts through neuromuscular pathways. In this example, a strong grip recruits all of the upper extremities, allowing for better strength and stability.

Improved grip strength may also help that nagging tennis elbow, carpel tunnel or old shoulder injury. With that in mind, here is a quick recommendation for developing a stronger grip:

  • Using a hand gripper (like the one pictured), start out with two or three sets of just one squeeze per each hand spaced throughout the day, holding the squeeze for three to five seconds. While many may start out with repetitive squeezing, fewer squeezes held longer can help reduce the risk of overuse injuries. This photo is a good reference for how the grippers should look when squeezed.
  • Try to complete this workout three to four times each week. As always, if you have pain, stop the motion and contact your physician.

So the next time you hit the courts, meet with colleagues, or go on a job interview, grip that racket or hand like you mean it. It’s the only way to be sure you’re sending the right signals.

Sources:

Roberts LV, Stinear CM, Lewis GN, and Byblow WD. “Task-Dependent Modulation of Propriospinal Inputs to Human Shoulder.” Journal of Neurophysiology 100.4 (2008): 2109-114.

Antony NT, Keir PJ. Effects of Posture, Movement and Hand Load on Shoulder Muscle Activity. Journal of Electromyography and Kinesiology 20.2: 191-98. 2010.

Above content provided by Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. For advice about your medical care, consult your doctor.