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Extensor Digitorum: Muscle Pain & Trigger Points

The extensor digitorum muscle extends your fingers.

If it gets too tight or develops trigger points, you can experience pain at your forearm and elbow.

People that suffer from problems in this muscle are usually working a lot with their fingers and hands – e.g. musicians and craftsmen –.

Fortunately, with the right tools these issues can be fixed pretty quick. Self-massage is a brilliant option and more accessible than most people imagine.

On this page you will learn about this muscles’ insertions, functions, pain zones, overload movements and impaired movements.

Furthermore, I will guide you through the palpation and self-massage of this muscle.

1. Pain Patterns & symptoms

1.1 Pain patterns of the extensor digitorum muscle

If this muscle contains trigger points, it can send pain down your entire forearm, to the back of your hand and your 3rd – 4th finger.

Furthermore, your finger joints might feel sore if it is overworked.

Additionally, it is possible that you experience pain at the lateral epicondyle of your humerus, which often feels like a tennis elbow ache.

Last but not least, this muscle can send pain to the inner side of your wrist right below your thumb – not shown in the picture –.

The deeper the red in the pictures displayed below, the more common it is to experience pain in the corresponding area if this muscle harbors trigger points.

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1.2 Impaired or painful movements

Of course, all activities that caused this muscle to tighten up or created trigger points in the first place, can be painful.

Besides that, a troubling extensor digitorum might give you pain when shaking someone`s hand or grabbing objects – e.g. box of water, cup of coffee –.

In more severe cases, you even might experience a weak grip accompanied with pain while opening and closing your hand.

As you use your fingers almost all the time during activities of daily living, this muscle has the power to massively influence your quality of life if it is overworked.

2. Attachment Points of the Extensor Digitorum

The extensor digitorum muscle runs from the lateral epicondyle of the humerus down the entire length of the forearm and splits at the wrist into 4 tendons that run to the 2nd – 5th finger.

The Xs in the picture below display common areas of trigger points in this muscle.

3. Function of the Extensor Digitorum Muscle

This muscles’ main function is the extension of your 2nd – 5th finger and the support of the extension of your wrist.

Furthermore, it enables you to move your fingers inter-independently and to spread them apart.

Last but not least, like all forearm extensors, it helps to stabilize your wrist during gripping motions.

The stronger the grip, the stronger this muscle gets activated.

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Extension at the wrist

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Fingers extension

4. Trigger Point Activation

Excessive muscle tension and trigger points can develop in the extensor digitorum muscle especially with repetitive finger movements and strong grips.

This means it leaves everyone that uses his or her fingers a lot with a high chance of developing a painful hand, forearm or a tennis elbow if these activities are not balanced – e.g. by stretching, massage, relaxation exercises –.

Among others, the following activities can trigger problems in the extensor digitorum muscle.

  • Playing instruments – especially piano, violin, guitar, saxophone, trumpet, flute, …, –
  • Computer work
  • Rock climbing
  • Gardening

I want to relieve my pain

5. Palpation of the Extensor Digitorum Muscle

Feeling this muscle is easy.

  • Place your fingers on the lateral epicondyle of your upper arm and then move your fingers.
  • While doing so, travel down your forearm and feel the extensor digitorum that is contracting with that movement.

6. Self-Massage of the Extensor Digitorum Muscle

For massage I recommend using either your fingers or a massage ball against a wall.

Massage with a ball

  • Place the ball on your extensor digitorum muscle and slightly press against a wall.
  • Now start to roll over your muscle and search for tender spots.
  • As soon as you find one, stay there and massage it for about 10 – 15 times with very slow and precise strokes.
  • Then move on to the next tender spot or the next muscle on your to do list.

Massage With Fingers

  • Place your fingertips on the muscle and search for tender spots.
  • As soon as you find one, massage it with very slow and deep strokes 10 – 15 times.
  • Then, move on to the next tender spot or the next muscle.
  • It is important to focus on the painful spot instead of just rubbing around the whole muscle.
  • Keep the following in mind: Only precise massage does the job!

Alternatively, you can just press your fingertips “into” the muscle and then move your fingers about 10 – 15 times.

Note: If you use your fingers for massage, make sure to take frequent rests and/or to keep your massage sessions short – 2 to 3 tender spots –.

Otherwise you are at a higher risk of straining them.

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. Baltimore, MD: Williams & Wilkins, 1999. Print.
  • Schünke, Michael., Schulte, Erik, and Schumacher, Udo. Prometheus: Lernatlas der Anatomie. Stuttgart/New York: Georg Thieme Verlag, 2007. Print