“The bird bird bird, bird is the word,” is a very bad earworm of a song. However, in Western culture, “the finger” (as in giving someone the finger or the bird, also known as the finger wave, the middle finger, flipping someone off, flipping the bird, shooting the bird, the rude finger or the one finger salute) is an obscene hand gesture, often a sign of extreme or moderate contempt. It is performed by showing the back of a closed fist that has only the middle finger engaged, and I seriously doubt when you activate in this gesture you think, “oh, this is my extensor digitorum, and it provides an extension for the medial digits in the hands, and it originates from the lateral epicondyle of the humerus and then segregates down into four sections so that my fingers may move inter-independently and spread them each apart while I simultaneously give the bird.”
Extending the finger(s) is considered a symbol of contempt, at least here. In Ancient Rome, well, I’ll let you do the digging for their interpretation, but for now this finger motion can and will cause contempt in the forearm and can create trigger points. These can send pain down your entire forearm to the back of your hand, and then your finger(s) may feel overworked, leaving you with chronic pain in your hand or tennis elbow if activities are not balanced with stretching, massage, and relaxation exercises. Stretching the flexors of the forearm, wrist and fingers can be easy: for example, extend your wrists and turn your fingers towards your body, placing palms down on the floor (not to be done if you have wrist issues) then gently put weight on the hands and hold for a few breaths. After that, slowly lift the heel of the hand away from the floor, feeling for stretch through the posterior side of the arm and fingers.
So if the bird is your word while you drive anxiously through LA traffic, take note, the bird isn’t the word for this sometimes overused extensor digitorum.
Learn more about the Yoga Tune Up At Home Program
Check out our Therapy Ball products
Discover pain solutions for your hands & wrists
Ha! Entertaining, but informative as well. I’ll be sure to practice this exercise for the benefit of my (recently injured) wrists and fingers… but will be sure not to do so in public. Thanks!
Love your wit and wisdom fusion. If I’m ever given the bird, i will remember your article and know that there will be karma for those that bird, bird, bird.
Ha! Such a funny and engaging way to explain the anatomy of the extensor digitorum. I will definitely remember now that that is the muscle that controls all (and especially the middle) fingers. I never realized that muscle was tight on me (especially on the right side!), probably due to typing and mousing around on a computer. I bet this is a body blind spot for many students and I am excited to incorporate this into my teaching. Thanks!
I attend a lot of Star Trek conventions and give the Vulcan salute of “live long and prosper”, popularized by Mr. Spock, all the time. I always wondered why my arms and fingers were sore when I got home! From now on I will start performing your exercise in preparation for the next convention.
Well thank you for an entertaining and unexpected post. I wanted to look into hand YTU stuff for my husband who spends his days typing away and doing math. I’m not sure how often he flips the bird but I know he would benefit from taking care of his extensor digitorum!
These are some great suggestions for movements to stretch the muscles that move the fingers. The Yoga Tune Up Therapy Balls are also a great way to bring awareness into these muscles and get them to loosen up and relax. Rolling the tops and bottoms of the forearms with a stripping motion helps re-elongate the fibers of those muscles. Because I spend a lot of time with my hands on a keyboard and mouse, the extensors of my right arm often get tight. I find that rolling with the balls really helps relax, soothing even the slight achiness in the knuckle of my pointer finger. The stretches discussed here sound like an excellent complement to the ball rolling.
Very interesting way to “break down” such a common (unfortunately) gesture. Maybe people would think twice before being so rude.
This was a fun read. I never think of tennis elbow a cause of over used extension of the fingers. I think it is important to stretch the forearms, but also very important to keep them strengthened. Which is done greatly in yoga. Good thing I don’t live in LA where I have to use my finger much to wave. Though it would be good exercise to move each digit independently.
Love it! Yet another reason to keep your finger to yourself in traffic. I never really considered the implication of finger extension – and have definitely experienced some discomfort in the forearms and wrists after lots of yoga. Good to have some simple strategies to stretch this area out.
For how much I extend my fingers in a day, I find it difficult to see how any type of “overuse” except permanent extension could cause such large amounts of pain. Now, if there are wrist and elbow issue prior to the repeated extension of the digits, I see how that may aggravate the problem.