Day 53: Upper Limbs Mobility
Bondage restriction usually starts with the arms, the part of the body capable of the widest range of movement and precision. Each part carries its little secrets. Mobility varies from person to person and it will change over time. Exploring how the body can move helps us build our knowledge of mobility to move the arms efficiently and lock them in place with intent.
Upper Limb Joints Mechanics and Safety
Understanding the mechanics of the shoulders, elbows, wrists and fingers is key for safe and efficient movement when doing rope. The upper limb is the most mobile part of the body, capable of strong lift and precise movement. Each joint has strengths and weaknesses that can be leveraged when moving and posing the body to be tied.
Moving the shoulder requires the combination of several joints, it is one of the most complex articulations of the body. It combines the humerus (upper arm), clavicle, scapula, sternum and ribs to allow the arms to rotate, abduct (lift on the side) and adduct (pull downward). It is interesting that different groups of bones and muscles are involved for each type of movement, so the mobility is likely to be different when rotating and abducting. The main shoulder joint is a ball and socket type, and it is built quite strongly with large muscles protecting it when lifting things from the ground and generally being pulled downward. It’s the opposite when being pulled upward as smaller muscles are involved, and injuries are much more common.
The elbow combines the humerus, the radius and the ulna. The joint between the humerus and the ulna is a hinge-type of joints that allows for flexion and extension. Flexing involves strong muscles and the joint has limited mobility in extension. The humerus and the radius form a ball and socket joint. The radius and the ulna work together to do the supination and pronation of the hand, which is the ability to have your palm facing front or back without moving the rest.
The ulna, the radius and the carpal bones form the joints at the wrist. It can move in several directions, flexion, extension, radial abduction, ulnar adduction but always at limited angles. This range of motion will be higher for people with hypermobility. We can exploit the limited range of the wrist and elbow to create restriction with a joint lock. The wrist is prone to many injuries such as muscle sprain, carpal tunnel syndrome, arthritis etc.
These conditions will generally extend to the rest of the hand. We can find the carpal and the metacarpal bone in the palm of the hand, and the fingers have three phalanges except for the thumb which has two. This is the average but there are some variations in the hand configuration due to congenital disorders or amputation. The huge amount of bone, muscles and tendons in the hand allows for precise movement. Phalanges are hinge joints with much more strength and range of motion when flexing than when extending. The muscles between the metacarpal bone also allow some limited abduction and adduction (side to side).
This is just a brief summary to help understand the mechanics of movement. Medical resources can help you get a deeper understanding of each joint, which muscles, tendon, bones are involved and how they move. In case of pain or injury, consult your physician.
[Coming soon, pictures of the joints with notes on movement]
Warming up and Stretching the Arms
Warming up by moving the arms in several directions will activate circulation and help protect the joints when doing more intense physical activities. There is a huge variety of exercises you can pick from. The goal is to get the body moving and explore your full natural range of movement. Start with 10-15 repetitions for a light warm-up. This can be beneficial for both the person tying and the person being tied.
When warming up the upper limb, you’ll want exercises that get your shoulder rotating and abducting, your elbow bending, and so on with your wrist and fingers. You can also warm up some of your chest and back muscles at the same time by moving the arms. Here are some easy exercises to try:
- Arm rotation for the shoulder, make big circles in both directions.
- Jumping jacks for shoulder abductions
- Elbow flexing
- Wrist rotations
- Open and close the hand really quick for finger warm-up
- Open and close the elbow in front for the chest and back
[Coming soon, picture of warm-up]
Stretches can help increase your range of motion which can help reduce injury and feel more comfortable when moving with your body both in rope and in your daily life. Heavy stretches are not recommended right before an intense exercise such as tying or being tied as they temporarily weaken the body. We have to make sure our body is warmed up before stretching to reduce risks of injury, and generally be gentle and patient with ourselves by listening to our limits. Start by holding the stretch for five breaths and relax into it. Here are some examples of stretch you can try:
- Prayer position to stretch the wrists, palms together or knuckles together
- Join hands in the back and stretch the shoulders open
- Child’s pose
- Use a rope or a towel, point the elbow up and pull down with the other hand, then do the opposite and pull the lower arm up.
- Grab a pole at a wider distance than your shoulder and rotate the pole front and back.
[coming soon, pictures of solo stretching]
Partner stretches are a great way to stretch our body further and connect together at the same time. It requires patience and good communication to be done safely and avoid overstretching. Listen to the body resistance and go gently to feel its limits. It can be interesting to do some light stretching after an intense tie to release the tensions accumulated in the body during the restriction. Here are some examples:
Arms straight in the back, palms facing out. Bring the elbows closer to each other, lift the arms gently. This is especially satisfying after being in a box tie for an extended period of time.
More coming soon
[Coming soon, pictures of partner stretching]
You can deepen a stretch by contracting the targeted muscle, and then relaxing back into the stretch. This method is called proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF) and is considered one of the most efficient stretching techniques by medical professionals.
Many conditions may affect how you should stretch. Hypermobile people should take care to engage their muscles when stretching while people with arthritis might have to focus on specific stretches. During pregnancy, the body releases hormones that make it more mobile which can make it more prone to injury. Follow the guidelines of your medical professional for any particular condition.
Tying the Elbows Pointing Up
Ties like the bunny ears and the riffle tie will place an arm with the bent elbow pointing up. It can be quite challenging to hold this position vertically as the gravity is pulling the arm down. When it starts to flail, the arm will often push against the rope, increasing the speed at which we will experience nerve and circulation issues. One strategy to reduce this is to get the arm as close as possible to the head so that it aligns vertically with the shoulder, reducing the impact of gravity.
Each person’s flexibility is different, some hyper-flexible people will be able to get their arm fully vertical but most people can’t. For most people, the flexibility when rotating from the front will be higher than lifting from the side (abducting). It is also very likely that one side is more flexible than the other. Knowing which position is best for you can make a big difference on the sustainability of the tie.
Compare these different approaches:
- Extend the arm on the side, bend the elbow, point the elbow to the sky
- Extend the arm in front with the palm up, raise your hand to the sky, bend the elbow
Which method gets you closer to a vertical position? When the arm gets tired, lying on the ground is a great way to free yourself or your partner from the pull of gravity.
[Coming soon, pictures of the elbow pointing up in different positions]
Tying the Arms in the Back
It is challenging for most people to maintain a position with their hands in the back. The main limitation is usually tension in the shoulders which tend to get quite stiff in the modern lifestyle. Warming up and massaging can help get some mobility back. Regularly stretching the shoulder and improving your posture are also great long-term solutions to keep your body in good shape and prevent injuries.
There is a wide range of positions you can explore with the hands in the back, some are more accessible than others. Low wrists are the less stressful position on the body, and the higher we get the wrists, the more difficult it becomes. Bringing the palms together in prayer will also push the elbows out and may add stress at the wrist depending on the height. Using the rope to hold the wrists in position can really help relax in the tie.
To increase sustainability, we can place the shoulder joint at an angle that will minimize the tension in the body. Different people will have different preferences, and it also depends on how high you wish to place the wrists in the back. It’s very likely you realize you are more flexible than you thought when you find the right position for you. This will require some practice and is easier with a partner to help guide the body in the different positions. If you are helping a partner, use only a gentle force, we are working with the body, not against it.
Compare these different approaches:
- Front position: roll the shoulder to the front, pull the arm down, maintain the pull as you bring up the wrists behind the back, bend the elbow and rotate the forearm as you bring them backward. This position is often preferred when we want to bring the hand higher in the back.
- Back position: roll the shoulder to the back, pull the arm down and bring the wrist to the back while keeping the tension toward the back. This position is often preferred by people who enjoy opening their shoulders.
- Neutral position: don’t do anything special, let the body naturally set itself into place. For many people, this will be preferable to forcing the shoulder in any position.
If any position doesn’t feel right for you, you don’t have to endure something that feels off for your body. As you continue exploring your mobility, you can revisit these positions from time to time to see if they feel different.
[Coming soon, photo of different shoulder position in a box tie]
Locking the Elbow Straight
Preventing the elbows from moving is an important part of the feeling of restriction. Because they share the same bones, the elbow and the wrists are connected together. Overextending the pronation of the hand will force the elbow in a straight position. In martial arts they leverage the relationship between the two joints to create a chain reaction, by pulling the thumb in the right direction, the wrist will rotate, the elbow will straighten up and the rest of the body will follow in compliance.
Explore bringing the hands together with the palms facing out, either in front, in the back or over the head. Observe how the angle of the wrists creates a restriction at the elbow.
[Coming soon, pictures of the elbow straight with wrist control]
Try different arm positions and explore how you can adapt them to be more restrictive or sustainable depending on the mobility and preferences of the person being tied.
- Measure your mobility before and after warming up, do you see or feel an improvement?
- Compare pointing the elbow up with an abduction vs rotation of the shoulder.
- Which box tie position feels the best, shoulder rolling forward, backward, or neutral?
- How far can the elbow go in the back? Is it different if the palms are facing inside or outside?
- Explore with different positions of the arm, rotate the hand in pronation and see what happens.
Inspirations and Resources
- Warming Up for Shibari by Shibari Study
- PNF Stretching: A How-To Guide by Peggy Pletcher
- Best Stretches for Arthritis Morning Stiffness by Ellen Greenlaw
- Pregnancy and BDSM by Stephanos and Shay
- Photo by Ren Yagami