Extensor carpi radialis longus pain & trigger points

The extensor carpi radialis longus muscle is an extensor of your wrist and can induce elbow pain if it is too tight.

Especially tennis elbow pain is a common symptom that is experienced if this muscle contains trigger points, which can be by-products of excessive muscle tension.

Luckily they can be eliminated by precise self-massage.

On this page you will learn about this muscles’ attachment points, functions, pain zones, overuse, impaired movements, palpation and massage.

To put it short: All the information you need to successfully work on this muscle.

1. Pain patterns and symptoms

1.1 Pain patterns

If your extensor carpi radialis longus muscle is too tight or contains tender and/or trigger points, it can give you pain at the lateral side of your elbow.

This way it mimics tennis elbow pain.

Additionally you can experience pain all the way down your forearm and to the backside of your hand.

Another common symptom is a weak and painful grip, which even can make you drop light things – e.g. glass of water –.

2. Attachment points of the Extensor carpi radialis longus

The extensor carpi radialis longus muscle runs from the lower and outer part of the humerus to the base of the 2nd metacarpal bone.

The X in the muscle picture displays a common area of trigger points.

3. Function of the Extensor carpi radialis longus

This muscle has several functions.

Its main one is a radial deviation of the hand, which means it “kinks” your wrist in way that your thumb is getting moved towards the inner side of your forearm  and your radius, respectively.

Furthermore, together with the other extensors of your wrist, it extends and stabilizes the latter during gripping motions and this way prevents it from flexion.

1

Extension at the wrist

2

Abduction at the wrist

4. Trigger point activation of the Extensor carpi radialis longus

The most common cause of the development of tight muscle tissue and trigger points in the extensor carpi radialis longus muscle is excessive use of a strong grip.

A strong grip is often needed in various sports and activities of daily living.

This is why, among others, the following movements and/or activities can overload this muscle.

  • Tennis – especially back hand play –
  • Rock climbing
  • Weight lifting – e.g. heavy dead lifts –
  • Gardening
  • Hard screw driving

5. Palpation of the Extensor carpi radialis longus muscle

While it won’t be any problem for you to feel the extensor group of your wrist, it might be a little bit tricky to distinguish this muscle from the rest. Especially as it is partly covered by your brachioradialis muscle.

The most accessible part of this muscle is at the mid section of your forearm.

Put your fingers on this part and move them slightly towards your radius on the inner side of your forearm.

Then abduct your wrist to the inside/towards your radius and feel which muscle is contracting with this movement.

If you have placed your fingers correctly, you will feel the extensor carpi radialis longus.

There is absolutely no reason to worry if you are not able to palpate this muscle.

Most of the times tight muscle tissue and trigger points do not develop solely in this muscles but with other tender tissues and trigger points in the surrounding muscles.

The message is this: Just palpate your forearm muscles and realize when areas are tender.

Still, you can use the picture which is shown under attachment points for navigational issues.

The next step is to frequently massage those areas until they aren’t painful anymore.

6. Self-massage of the Extensor carpi radialis longus muscle

For massage of this muscle and the muscles on the backside of your forearm I recommend a massage ball or your elbow.

Massage with your elbow

Place your elbow on the top of your forearm and then slowly execute long massage strokes down its entire length.

Note: While using your elbow for massage, make sure to keep an open first in order not to tighten up your forearm flexors.

Also experiment with the position of your elbow. Massage with the ulna is not that “deep” as compared to massage with your “elbow joint”.

Still, that might be even desirable if your forearm muscles are very tender.

Massage with a ball

This is also a good way to massage this muscle.

  • Just take a massage ball and place it on your forearm muscles.
  • Then slightly press against a wall and search for tender spots. As soon as you hit one, focus on this spot and massage it for 10 – 15 times with very slow strokes.
  • Afterwards, move on to the next tender spot.

References

  • Calais-German, Blandine. Anatomy of Movement. Seattle: Eastland Press, 1993. Print
  • Davies, Clair, and Davies, Amber. The Trigger Point Workbook: Your Self-Treatment Guide For Pain Relief. Oakland: New Harbinger Publications, Inc., Print
  • Simons, David G., Lois S. Simons, and Janet G. Travell. Travell & Simons’ Myofascial Pain and Dysfunction: The Trigger Point Manual. The Lower Extremities. Baltimore, MD: Williams & Wilkins, 1993. Print.
  • Schünke, Michael., Schulte, Erik, and Schumacher, Udo. Prometheus: Lernatlas der Anatomie. Stuttgart/New York: Georg Thieme Verlag, 2007. Print