Hesperian Health Guides

Stretches and massage reduce pain

Aches, pains, swelling, tingling, burning, or numbness in the parts of your body you use on the job may be signs of injury from repetitive work.

Resting can help your body heal. But movements, such as stretches, massage, and exercise, may also help reduce and prevent injury. Do the movements in this section or other things known in your community to help lessen muscle and joint pain.

Pain is common but it is not the only way
a woman telling a story.

Every person I know, even the new hires at my factory, feels pain from working. I don’t think there is a single factory worker that is pain-free. But after a recent ergonomics training where we learned that work could be modified to not hurt us, we were very excited: maybe work didn’t have to be so painful. We made small changes in our workstations that made work easier. Some of us went to the boss to ask for better tools.

The boss listened to us, but nothing changed. And the improvements we made helped a little, but we still had pain. Many workers became discouraged. They said, "What is the point of organizing for ergonomic changes if we will hurt anyway?" We knew we had to help people feel less pain as well as organize to prevent pain from happening. We can’t talk about prevention with someone who is already sick.

So we began asking around: What did people do to feel less pain after work? Some took herbs, others took medicine. We learned about stretches, exercises, and massage. The techniques didn’t work for everybody, and some people just refused to do anything. But more workers began trying different things to deal with their pain. It is still true that pain is the cross we have to bear, but now we have some tools to manage pain instead of letting it rule our lives. And with less pain, we have more energy and hope that we can change our lives.


Most movements that allow your muscles to stretch will give you some relief. Move and stretch as often as you can at work and at home. Some stretches are better if you can hold the position for a few seconds or minutes, but do not push your body beyond its limits.

Stretching with other people at work or at home helps you stay motivated. And you might learn new stretches!


a woman doing the 4 stretches described below.
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1. Make a fist. 2. Open your hands, stretching your fingers out. 3. Curl your fingers into a claw. Then open your hands again. 4. Gently roll your hands in a circle at the wrist.

a man doing the stretches described below.

With your arm stretched out in front of you, lift your palm up so it is facing away and your fingers are pointing up. Use your other hand to pull your fingers back toward you.

Then fold your hand down at the wrist, so the palm is facing your body and the fingers are pointing down. Use your other hand to pull the back of the hand down and toward you. Grip the main part of the hand when you pull, not the fingers.

Neck and shoulders

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Roll your head slowly in a full circle. Move shoulders up and down, roll them forward and backward, pull your shoulder blades together and apart. Put your thumb or fingers on the muscle between your neck and shoulder. The closer it is to your neck the better. Keeping the pressure, move your head to the side opposite to where you are pressing. Hold for a few seconds.


a woman on her back, doing the exercises described below. Pull your knees towards your chest. Relax, still holding your knees.
Wgthas Ch7 Page 145-5.png Lie on your back with your knees bent. Push your lower back into the floor by slowly tightening your stomach and buttock muscles. Relax, and your back will curve up the way it usually does.
Wgthas Ch7 Page 145-6.png Stretch your arms to the sides with your knees bent. Slowly let your knees drop to one side. When they touch the floor, turn your head to the opposite side, trying to keep your shoulders on the ground. After a few moments, bring them back to the center and slowly bring them over to the other side, turning your head the other way.

Massage and press the muscles

Your muscles, tendons, ligaments, and other soft tissues become tense when you use them over and over without rest. When they are tense, they feel hard. When they relax they feel softer. When you do the same movements over and over, your muscles never get an opportunity to relax.

an arm with arrows indicating muscles and joints.
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If you feel any tingling or numbness, change the position of the pressure.

One way to release the tension in your muscles is to massage them. You can do this with your hands or a hard object. Massaging and pressing on the muscles will work better if you do it regularly, not just when you have pain. It helps to do it several times during the day. The massage may feel a little painful at first, when you are working on muscles that have been tense for too long.

Use any kind of massage common in your community. Only press the muscles, and not the joints.


With your wrist relaxed and palm pointed towards the floor, close your hand in a fist.

Place your thumb right on the muscles of the forearm, close to the elbow (but not on top of it).

If you move your thumb from side to side while pressing, you may feel the muscle jump a little bit.

You can press and just stay there, or you can roll it. You can also move your wrist up and down.

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Press on the flesh, not the bone.


Place your thumb on your wrist and hold it there for a few seconds as you move your wrist up and down.


Apply pressure to the muscles around the elbow, not directly to the elbow.

Put your thumb on the upper, underside of your elbow, the part that faces toward the back of you, and try to find the muscle that hurts.

Up and down Side to side
a woman bending her elbow as described below.
a woman turning her arm as described below.
Stretch and curl your arm several times as you press on the muscle. Then move your hand from palm down to palm up several times as you press.
a woman raising and lowering her arm as described below.


Put your fingers on the area of your arm that connects with your shoulder. Find the place that feels sore and push it as you move your arm slowly up and down.

Strengthen and improve your posture

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Most people get tired of keeping their back and neck straight. Exercises that make your upper back strong will make it easier for you to hold a good posture, even if your chair does not have a good back rest.

Sit or stand. Keeping your shoulders down and relaxed, squeeze your shoulder blades as if you were trying to make them touch. Hold this as long as you can. Do this often during the day. You can also do this lying belly-down on a bed.
Starting from the same position, lift your arms out to your sides, forming a T. Push your arms back, as if you were trying to make the back of your hands touch. Hold this as long as you can. Do this often during the day.
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Starting from the same position, raise your arms straight up. Keep them straight and push your arms back without arching your back. Hold this as long as you can. Do this often during the day.

Strain and pain

The best thing to do when you feel strain and pain is to stop using the muscle at work and home or use it less and massage, stretch, and strengthen it.

Put ice or a cold cloth on the muscle for 20 to 30 minutes a few times a day. The cold helps reduce inflammation so your muscle can heal. Apply cold several times a day and any time you have pain. You can apply heat after a few days.

Take aspirin or ibuprofen. They help with pain and also reduce muscle inflammation. But these medicines can cause other health problems and are not a long-term solution. Ask a health worker or others in your community about plants and traditional medicines that might help you with pain and swelling.

Different kinds of injuries need different times to heal. But see a health worker if:

  • you feel tingling or numbness.
  • the pain from a strain does not go away after 1 or 2 weeks.
  • you fell, twisted, or pulled a muscle and the injury does not improve in 2 to 4 weeks.

A health worker might recommend you stop working for awhile and give you exercises and stretches that will help your body heal. She might give you more or different medicines.

When you visit a health worker, explain why you think your pain is due to your work. She has probably never done the work you do, so you must show her. Act out the physical moves required by your work so she can see clearly what you do all day. For more information about getting health care, see Chapter 25: Access to health care.

a woman at a health clinic reaching down with 1 arm and pointing to her back while a health worker watches.
Show the health worker how your back hurts from reaching deep into carts.
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This page was updated:28 Feb 2021