Therapy in a Can

posted by dpm on 05/01/2011


After a long day of climbing or training, your arms probably hurt.  If you’re trying to get stronger, this is a good thing.  It is common knowledge that sore muscles mean you’ve broken them down and they’re going to heal back stronger.  It’s how we get stronger.  But you are never going to send your hardest project with tired arms.  It’s the giant Catch-22 of rock climbing.  You climb best when your muscles are fresh; you get stronger when they are wrecked.  In an ideal world we’d be able to train or climb like mad and wake up the next day with rejuvenated muscles that are ready to perform at 100%.  As we all know, that’s not how it works.  Most of us overdo it and at some point, if you climb long enough, you’ll develop injuries from pushing your muscles too far. 


You hear you have to take a rest day or two, stop climbing for a while, ice the soreness, take some pain meds, learn some stretches and let time heal the pain.   All good enough unless you’re committed to training and sending that next-level problem or route. 


Using a stretching routine must be a part of all climbers’ disciplines.  However, the best way to accelerate the recovery and healing from strength and endurance training is massage.   Take a cue from professional athletes who get massaged virtually everyday.  They need to expose and treat tight muscle patterns before they develop into injuries or limit performance.   This is key: In most cases you don’t know the true health of your muscles until they are touched.

Here’s the beta on how muscles work and what you can do to help yourself.


The Basics:

Truth and Consequences:   Hand strength, dexterity and endurance come from the forearm muscles. Tendons are the ends of muscles that attach to bone.  Muscles pull on attachments to make movement possible.   Chronically tight muscles irritate attachments. If you have pain in your wrist or elbow it’s probably from tight forearm muscles. *


The Exchange:    All muscles need nutrients, enough hydration and O2 to fuel their work, to recover and become stronger.  They also need to get rid of the waste products such as lactic acid and receive new nutrients.  This is ‘the exchange’.


Range of Motion:   Full ROM means muscles can move to their longest extension and their shortest contraction.  Full ROM is really important because it indicates that there are no restrictions present so muscles can work at their best.  Muscles remain responsive to work loads with endurance and strength.


Two highly effective therapy techniques.

Circulatory massage is all about the exchange and circulation.  It’s a broad, general stroking that enhances blood and lymph flow** by stroking upwards towards the chest. This also helps reduce the effects of the forearm ‘pump’.


Trigger Point massage is a technique that zeros in on tight, sore bundles of muscle, called trigger points,which dominate and chronically contract that muscle tissue and prevent muscles from achieving their full ROM.


You need a tool to massage with.  The most natural response is to use your free hand to massage the other arm.  But using your hand alone creates more strain in the forearm muscles!   Using a tool reduces strain.


Go to your kitchen for your tool.   Use a 16-ounce size can of anything that’s in the pantry.  I’m serious.  The can has mass and two different surfaces that will take some of the effort out of massaging your arms.  Use smaller or larger cans, depending on the size of your hand and the weight you prefer.  The bigger the hand, the bigger the can.



What a can, can do.                                                                                                        

First, let’s do circulatory massage.

  • Sit in a comfortable chair with your legs slightly apart.  Lay the forearm to be massaged on your thigh or corner of a table, palm down. 
  • Hold the can so the long rounded sides lay on your forearm.  Now press and push the can starting at your wrist up your arms in a firm, gliding motion all the way up past your elbows towards your chest, slowly
  • Change the position of your arm to palm up to get all sides of you arm. 
  • Go gently and slowly over painful and tight areas.

If your arms start to feel jello-like during the massage, don’t do any more and return later. Allow your arms to reorganize and balance the fluids in your tissues. 



Next, use trigger point massage. While you were gliding the can up your arms you probably noticed some areas that were more tight and sore than others.  Those are your trigger points.

(Note: You may want to cushion the trigger point technique by folding a small towel as thick as you need to broaden and buffer the pressure.)

  • Turn the can so the rim is at a 45◦angle to your arm or just continue to use the long side for a broader, softer surface.   
  • Press gently into the trigger point/sore area and hold the can steady on that spot. 
  • Now move and stretch the muscle that has the soreness by flexing the hand up and down at the wrist or move the hand in circles at the wrist while you still hold steady pressure with the can.  
  • Put as much pressure on the spot while stretching the muscle to create the “Ooooh, hurts good!” sensation.  Nothing is gained by pushing too hard and creating the “Ow! hurts bad” sensation.
  • Stay at that “feels/hurts good” level for several seconds then shift the vector to approach the sore area from a slightly different angle, repeating the same technique.



Go slowlyand find what angles, pressures and movements you prefer.  Spend only 1 to 3 minutes at first doing either technique. Over the next several days you may increase the duration of massage.  The longer your muscles have been bundled-up tight, the longer they will take to release. You are being your own therapist, be patient with yourself.  You’re learning a new skill. Consult with your local Sports Massage or Physical Therapist for more self-help ideas.


* and can involve the bicep and tricep muscles.   Use the same 2 therapies for those muscle groups.

**lymph fluid works with the immune system to keep cells clear of infections and excess fluid among other functions.


There are times when massage should not be done:

  • Acute Traumas - Open wounds, recent bruising, sprained ligaments, burns, fractured or broken bones
  • A body temperature over 100°F, or feeling unwell
  • Diseased blood vessels - Varicose veins, phlebitis, thrombosis
  • Melanoma
  • Infectious skin disease - Bacterial infection, Lymphangitis, Fungal infection, Viral infections, Herpes
  • Too tired to lift anything but a beer can

By- Terry Michael Cross, Holistic Health Practitioner and Licensed Massage Therapist