The 10 Arm Stretches Physical Therapists Want You to Do More Often

The muscles, tendons, and ligaments in your arms need to be stretched in order to stay flexible and pain-free. These PT-approved tips can help.

Published Date: Jan 23, 2024

The 10 Arm Stretches Physical Therapists Want You to Do More Often

The muscles, tendons, and ligaments in your arms need to be stretched in order to stay flexible and pain-free. These PT-approved tips can help.

Published Date: Jan 23, 2024

The 10 Arm Stretches Physical Therapists Want You to Do More Often

The muscles, tendons, and ligaments in your arms need to be stretched in order to stay flexible and pain-free. These PT-approved tips can help.

Published Date: Jan 23, 2024

The 10 Arm Stretches Physical Therapists Want You to Do More Often

The muscles, tendons, and ligaments in your arms need to be stretched in order to stay flexible and pain-free. These PT-approved tips can help.

Published Date: Jan 23, 2024
Table of Contents

Your arms probably aren’t the first body parts you think of that need regular stretching. But just like your back and legs, your arms — which carry a lot throughout the day — can benefit from simple stretches. 

“Stretching is like a lubricant for your muscles and joints,” says Laura Reising, PT, DPT, a physical therapist at Hinge Health. “It gets everything moving and pliable. Repetitive motions in your daily routine can make your muscles tight. Whether you’re typing on a computer all day, doing fine needlework, or gardening, stretching can help decrease muscle tightness, soreness, and pain in your arm muscles, including your biceps, triceps, and forearm muscles, as well as your joints. 

Even activities that aren’t very active can cause tension in your hands and arms. Gripping a steering wheel during a long drive or holding a book that you just can’t put down may be passive activities, but the muscles in your hands and arms are active. If you’re not maintaining a comfortable, supportive position during those activities, the effects can spread up your arms. 

“When you sit with your shoulders rounded for too long without breaks, you can get stiff and tight in the neck, shoulders, and upper back,” says Dr. Reising. “Stretching opens up the chest and arms to maintain mobility and avoid pain.” 

Stretching your arms is also essential when exercising, especially if you play pickleball or other racquet sports, golf, swim, use cardio machines like rowers, or lift weights. Even during a lower body workout, your hands and arms still have to pick up and hold weights. So don't skip your arms when warming up and cooling down.

Read on to learn how stretching your arms prevents or relieves pain and discover PT-approved arm stretches recommended by Hinge Health physical therapists.

Our Hinge Health Experts

Laura Reising, PT, DPT
Physical Therapist
Dr. Reising is a Hinge Health physical therapist and board-certified orthopedic specialist with over 10 years of experience. She specializes in performing arts medicine.
Jonathan Lee, MD, MBA
Orthopedic Surgeon and Medical Reviewer
Dr. Lee is a board-certified orthopedic surgeon and an Associate Medical Director at Hinge Health.
Dylan Peterson, PT, DPT
Physical Therapist and Clinical Reviewer
Dr. Peterson is a Hinge Health physical therapist who focuses on developing clinical exercise therapy programs and member education.

The exercises below are divided into upper and lower arm stretches. You can do these stretches as often as you like or any time you feel tight or sore in these areas. You can also use any of these stretches as a warm-up or cool down before or after activities, like typing, gardening, cooking, playing racquet sports, or lifting weights.

Stretching Your Upper Arm

The upper arm area includes the deltoid muscles in your shoulders, biceps in the front of your upper arm, and triceps in the back of your upper arm. Stretching muscles in your upper arm can also help alleviate tightness and pain in other areas like your neck and upper back.

1. Wall Slide

1. Wall Slide

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This exercise helps maintain flexibility in your shoulders and upper back, making tasks like reaching overhead easier. It’s a great way to loosen up after spending hours typing, sewing, doing needlework, or scrolling on your phone.

How to Do It:

  • Stand with your forearms on a wall at shoulder height and your fingers pointing up.

  • Slide your forearms up towards the ceiling as you gently push your forearms into the wall. 

  • Hold at the top as you continue to gently push into the wall. 

  • Slide your forearms back down the wall to return to the starting position.

  • As you do each rep, you might feel your shoulder, arm, and upper back muscles working.

2. Kneeling Lat Stretch

2. Kneeling Lat Stretch

This move provides a deep shoulder stretch that extends to the midback. It’s a great warm-up stretch before playing racquet sports, lifting weights, or taking a Pilates or yoga class, where you’ll be reaching overhead. 

How to Do It: 

  • Kneel in front of a chair, and place your elbows on the chair with your palms facing each other, fingertips pointing toward the ceiling. Make sure your knees are right underneath your hips. 

  • Pull your abdominals in and slightly round your lower back, almost like the “cat” position in Cat-Cow. 

  • Then pull your hips slightly toward your feet and try to press your armpits and chest down toward the mat.

  • As you do each rep, you should feel the muscles just below your armpit stretching.

3. Doorway Stretch

3. Doorway Stretch

This stretch opens the pectoral muscles in the chest, which can get tight from hunching over computers, phones, and steering wheels. Keeping these muscles flexible ensures you have a full range of motion in your arms.

How to Do It:

  • Start by standing in a doorway with your elbows bent and each forearm resting on one side of the door frame. Your elbows should be at about chest height.

  • Step one foot through the doorway to move your hips and chest forward while your forearms stay in place.

  • Focus on creating length through your chest and arms.

  • Move your hips and chest back to relax out of the stretch

  • As you do each rep, you might feel a stretch in the front of your shoulders, chest, and arms. 

4. Hand Behind Back Stretch

4. Hand Behind Back Stretch

This move stretches all of the muscles in the upper arm. It also improves your ability to rotate your arms and reach behind your back to perform tasks like washing your back, putting on lotion or sunscreen, hooking a bra, or looping a belt around your waist.

How to Do It:

  • Start with one hand near your low back and your other hand holding one end of a towel behind your head. 

  • Grasp the other end of the towel at your low back so that the towel stretches between your hands. 

  • Move your hand at your head up towards the ceiling. Your other hand will be pulled up along your spine to provide a stretch. 

  • Focus on keeping your lower arm relaxed as you hold this stretch. 

  • Switch the placement of your hands and repeat.

  • As you do each rep, you might feel a stretch in your shoulder and arm muscles.

5. Cross Arm Stretch

5. Cross Arm Stretch

This move targets the back of the shoulder and arm. When these muscles get tight, it can lead to poor posture and irritation that can cause pain in the neck and down the arm. Keeping these muscles flexible helps with activities like putting on a seatbelt in the car.

How to Do It:

  • Start by folding your arms across your stomach with one hand holding your opposite elbow from the bottom.

  • Now push that elbow with your hand up and across your body towards your opposite shoulder. 

  • Focus on relaxing your stretching arm as you hold this position.

  • Relax your arms back to the starting position. Repeat on the other side. 

  • As you do each rep, you might feel a stretch in your shoulder, arm, and upper back. 

Stretching Your Lower Arm

The lower arm includes muscles in the forearm that control the wrist, hand, and fingers. Stretching these muscles can help reduce tightness and pain from your elbow down to your fingertips from repetitive tasks like typing or texting. Keeping your lower arm muscles and joints flexible and mobile helps prevent or ease conditions like carpal tunnel syndrome, cubital tunnel syndrome, and tennis elbow

6. Wrist Flexor Stretch

6. Wrist Flexor Stretch

This move stretches the muscles along the underside of your forearm and palm. These muscles enable you to bend your fingers, wrists, and elbows to perform tasks that involve grabbing and picking things up.

How to Do It:

  • Start by raising your arm in front of you with your elbow straight and the palm of your hand facing the floor. 

  • Use your other hand to gently pull the palm of your hand up towards the ceiling. Allow your fingers to be relaxed and mostly bent as you hold this stretch.

  • Relax your pressure and return to the starting position.  

  • Repeat the stretch on the other hand.

  • As you do each rep, you might feel a stretch in your wrist, hand, and forearm.

7. Wrist Extensor Stretch

7. Wrist Extensor Stretch

This move stretches the muscles along the top of your forearm and hand. Keeping these muscles flexible improves mobility in your fingers, wrists, and elbows and can help prevent or ease pain. 

How to Do It:

  • Start by raising your arm in front of you with your elbow straight and the palm of your hand facing the floor. 

  • Use your other hand to gently push on the back of your raised hand until your fingers point down towards the floor. Allow your fingers to be relaxed and mostly straight as you hold this stretch.

  • Relax your pressure and return to the starting position.  

  • Repeat the stretch on the other hand.

  • As you do each rep, you might feel a stretch in your wrist, hand, and forearm.

8. Wrist Rotations

8. Wrist Rotations

This stretch loosens up the forearm muscles that turn your palm up and down, like when cooking or serving food.

How to Do It:

  • Start by standing with your elbow bent to 90 degrees and resting at your side. Your hand should be open with the thumb pointing towards the ceiling. 

  • Rotate your hand so that your palm is facing the ceiling.

  • Keep your elbow at your side as you hold this position.

  • Then return to the starting position with your thumb pointing towards the ceiling.

  • Rotate your hand so that your palm is facing the floor, and hold this position.

  • Then return to the starting position. Repeat with the other hand.

  • As you do each rep, you might feel a stretch in your wrist, elbow, and forearm.

9. Wrist Side Bends

9. Wrist Side Bends

This dynamic stretch loosens the arm muscles that allow you to move your hand side to side.

How to Do It:

  • While sitting in a chair, start with your forearm resting on a table with your hand hanging off the edge. The palm of your hand should face the floor and your wrist should be straight.

  • Move your hand sideways by moving the pinky side away from your body. Your palm should continue to face the floor as you hold this position.

  • Return to the starting position.

  • Move your hand the other direction by moving the thumb side in towards your body and then hold.

  • Now relax back to the starting position. Repeat with the other hand.

  • As you do each rep, you might feel a stretch in your wrist, hand, and forearm. 

10. Hand Tendon Glide

10. Hand Tendon Glide

This move improves mobility and reduces tightness in your fingers and hands. It’s a great warm-up to do before activities that involve a lot of hand and finger movement, like typing, needlepoint, or woodworking.

How to Do It:

  • Start by resting the elbow of one hand on a table. Your hand, wrist, and fingers are straight with your fingers together.

  • Bend your fingers at your large knuckles while keeping your fingers straight, making a “table top” position. Hold and then relax back to the starting position.

  • Bend at the middle of your fingers, touching fingertips to the bottom of your palm to make a “straight fist.” Hold this position, then relax.

  • Bend the tips of your fingers and thumb towards the top of your palm, making a “hook fist.” Hold, and then relax.

  • Make a “full fist” with your hand by bending all your fingers and your thumb towards the middle of your palm. Hold this position, and then relax.

  • Repeat with the other hand.

  • As you do each rep, you might feel your hand and wrist muscles working and stretching. 

The information contained in these videos is intended to be used for educational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice or treatment for any specific condition. Hinge Health is not your healthcare provider and is not responsible for any injury sustained or exacerbated by your use of or participation in these exercises. Please consult with your healthcare provider with any questions you may have about your medical condition or treatment.

Benefits of Arm Stretches

Arm stretches target muscles and tendons from your shoulders down to your hands and fingers. There are two general types of stretches that can benefit these areas. 

  • Traditional static stretches, which involve holding a position to increase flexibility. 

  • Dynamic stretches, which utilize movement to loosen muscles and increase circulation. 

While these two types of stretches work your arms in slightly different ways, they share many of the same benefits, including:

Restore overworked muscles. When muscles are tight, they don’t work as efficiently. Stretching restores fatigued, tight muscles to their normal length for more power and strength the next time they’re called upon to contract.

Protect against injuries. Repetitive hand, wrist, and arm movements can contribute to tennis elbow, carpal tunnel syndrome, and shoulder impingement, but stretching is one of the ways to prevent — and even treat — these common arm conditions. 

Enhance blood flow. Stretching increases circulation, bringing more nutrients and oxygen to arm muscles and joints to aid in recovery after activity. 

Improve range of motion. Stretching increases flexibility and range of motion in tight muscles. Better range of motion helps protect against injuries.

Prevent muscle imbalances. Tight muscles become weak muscles because they aren’t able to contract as well. When your arms are weak, other areas, like your shoulders and back, may have to pick up the slack, resulting in imbalances that can lead to pain or injury. 

Increase pain tolerance. A 2020 study in the Scandinavian Journal of Pain found that people were less sensitive to pain after stretching. 

PT Tip: Warm Up First

Dynamic stretches, in which you move through a comfortable range of motion instead of holding a static stretch, are essential before working out or playing sports — and they are helpful for prepping your arms for everyday activities, too. 

“Before you run, you want to prepare your body,” says Dr. Reising. “The same is true if you’re gardening or doing daily tasks like typing. You want to warm up and lubricate everything to promote ease of motion and decrease the chance of overuse or injury.”

When you’re about to start typing, scrolling on your phone or computer, working with your hands, or doing hobbies like crocheting or playing an instrument, spend a few minutes stretching your arms and hands first. You can also use these stretches as movement breaks during these activities or when your hands or arms are in a sedentary position for an extended period, like while driving or reading a book.

How Hinge Health Can Help You

If you have joint or muscle pain that makes it hard to move, you can get the relief you’ve been looking for with Hinge Health’s online exercise therapy program.

The best part: You don’t have to leave your home because our program is digital. That means you can easily get the care you need through our app, when and where it works for you.

Through our program, you’ll have access to therapeutic exercises and stretches for your condition. Additionally, you’ll have a personal care team to guide, support, and tailor our program to you.

See if you qualify for Hinge Health and confirm free coverage through your employer or benefit plan here.

This article and its contents are provided for educational and informational purposes only and do not constitute medical advice or professional services specific to you or your medical condition.

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References

  1. Larouche, M-C., Samuel Camiré Bernier, Racine, R., Collin, O., Mikaël Desmons, Mailloux, C., & Massé-Alarie, H. (2020). Stretch-induced hypoalgesia: a pilot study. Scandinavian Journal of Pain, 20(4), 837-845. doi:10.1515/sjpain-2020-0018

  2. Adams-Colon, B. (2021, June 23). The Simple Act of Stretching. Colorado State University. https://www.research.colostate.edu/healthyagingcenter/2021/06/23/the-simple-act-of-stretching/