Brachialis, The Baby Carrying Muscle

In His Arms

In His Arms (Photo credit: Kate Dreyer)

One of the ways that adults carry their little one is by placing the child on a flexed forearm and pulling him or her close to the body. The bulk of the supported weight is over the lower arm.  This position stresses the muscles that work to maintain this position.  Many times, the parent doesn’t have the strength or stamina to keep the arm flexed for long periods of time.  But they try their best to hold their child, especially if baby cannot walk yet.  Thus, the weak and/or tired muscles can be injured to the point where the act becomes difficult or painful.  Although the biceps (as well as the brachioradialis) participate, the dominant muscle used to carry your baby is the lesser known brachialis.

The brachialis is a thick muscle that lies underneath the biceps on the lower half of the humerus.  Like the biceps brachii and brachioradialis, the brachialis assists in flexing the elbow.  Unlike the biceps and brachioradialis, the brachialis has only one function.  This single function causes the brachialis to be engaged during every elbow flexing motion.

Typical problems with the brachialis can be seen with weakness and/or discomfort in picking up a heavy baby, carrying groceries, or holding arms outstretched.  Some brachialis problems make straightening the arm difficult.  Pain is typically felt in one or more of the following locations:  anterior portion of the shoulder, outer portion of the upper arm, inner portion of elbow crease, and in the thumb.

Brachialis problems can exist as trigger points, or tender areas in the muscle.  The good news is that moms, dads, and relatives can work out these trigger points on themselves and bring significant relief in a short amount of time.  The brachialis muscle can be easily massaged with the thumb of the opposite hand.  The first place to treat is the outer portion of the arm between the biceps and triceps.  Located on the lower half of the humerus bone, the brachialis feels lumpy to the touch.  Massage this area, especially working the area near the outer edge of the biceps.  The next place to treat is inside the elbow crease. Because the brachialis attaches to the ulna just below the elbow crease, it’s possible to address brachialis tenderness from this spot.  Use the thumb to massage around the medial epicondyle, paying particular attention to the muscular area just toward the inside.

English: Location of UCL injury

English: Medial Epicondyle (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Other ways of treating the brachialis are by using a massage tool.  August Point Wellness offer a multipurpose trigger point massage tool called the Sciaticare Ball that can treat brachialis pain as well as many other muscular complaints.  Other useful hand tools assist in applying firm pressure to massage away trigger points.  A massage therapist or acupuncturist can professionally assess your pain and treat not only the brachialis, but the surrounding areas as well.  Most times, a few visit will be required to fully relieve the pain and discomfort.  Exercise and stretching should also recommended to help keep the brachialis muscle strong and allow you enjoy carrying your baby for longer periods, pain free.

Related Material:

Brachialis Muscle Trigger Point Therapy Using the Sciaticare Ball

The Burden of the Brachialis

Brachialis - Muscles of the Upper Extremity Vi...

Brachialis – Muscles of the Upper Extremity Visual Atlas, page 48 (Photo credit: robswatski)

The brachialis is the underappreciated workhorse of elbow flexion.  When one is asked to show their muscle, usually the biceps brachii takes the spotlight.  Both the brachialis and biceps flex the elbow, so why isn’t the brachialis muscle as popular?  The answer is because much of the brachialis is hidden underneath the biceps and cannot be seen.  The brachialis is surprisingly strong and doesn’t get the credit it deserves.  Many times, it doesn’t get the care it deserves either.

The main function of the brachialis muscle is to flex the elbow.  It works with the biceps brachii, brachioradialis and supinator.  Certain positions engage the brachialis more or less during elbow flexion yet there is variability in contraction of the muscle in each position.  Therefore, assessment of brachialis pain requires some skill and good technique.

Pain and spasm in the brachialis muscle can come about from activity such as lifting heavy objects or holding the arm in flexion for long periods of time.  Playing instruments such as a saxophone or guitar can trigger brachialis pain over time.  Other activities, such as typing on a computer while arms are unsupported, or carrying groceries can elicit a tight brachialis.

An injured or tight brachialis commonly causes pain in one or more of four locations.  Local pain may be felt on the outer portion of the humerus where the brachialis can be palpated.  Pain may also be felt near the muscular point of attachment on the proximal part of the ulna.  Referred pain may be felt at the base of the thumb on the same side as the affected brachialis.  The ipsilateral anterior shoulder or deltoid may also show tenderness from referred brachialis pain.

A muscle spasm or just plain tightness in the brachialis can impinge the radial nerve.  Symptoms of this nerve irritation affect the thumb and give the person a feeling of tingling or numbness in the thumb.  Since only the sensory portion of the nerve is affected, loss of strength in the thumb is not seen.

Much of the treatment for the brachialis can be done at home using the thumb of the opposite hand.  A massage tool could also be helpful for stubborn trigger points or muscle spasm.  Your alternative health practitioner can also be of great help, especially if one is searching for a natural healing therapy.

At August Point Wellness, we believe that many of the brachialis muscle issues can be addressed through acupuncture, massage therapy, and self-care.

An example treatment that we would use to address tight brachialis: