Neck stiffness and shoulder ouchy?
5-8 min read. If I had a dollar for every patient that has complained of neck and shoulder stiffness, only to find that their chest was the culprit all along, well, I’d have quite a few dollars!
I used to study at a desk for most of the day, almost every day of the week. Constantly hunching over in the most comfortable position I could find for those long hours of study. Until one day my upper back could not handle the strain any longer. My upper back, right between my shoulder blades, especially on my right side would ache! I tried rolling on a foam roller, using a hard rubber ball between the shoulder blades and on my neck. I tried strengthening those poor tired muscles.
Only to experience temporary relief, for maybe a few hours (this was before I became a massage therapist). In my own desperate research and experimentation to find relief, I stumbled upon some stretches that, when added to my foam roller routine, brought my discomfort down to zero!
A story for you
Imagine a tug of war battle between an elephant and ten monkeys. If the elephant wants to maintain his dominant or even a neutral position, all he needs to do is lean back. So long as the rope is anchored to him, he will never grow tired. However, the monkeys will struggle to maintain even a neutral position, and with each millimetre won by the elephant just laying backwards he gains a greater mechanical advantage until one of those monkeys give in.
This is the tug of war battle that each of us struggle with every day. We make our little monkey back muscles work extra hard just to maintain their “ideal” postural position, while our massive chest muscles flop forward, exhausting us before lunch!
But whats the moral…?
“But I stretch my chest” I hear you say, “why am I still tight?”, “why are my shoulders still falling forward?”. I have found one of the most neglected muscles is pectoralis minor. The pectoralis minor has two attachment sites. It stabilises on the front of the chest attaching to the rib cage, and connects to a deep anchor point on the front side of the shoulder blade. One of its main actions is to lift the ribs slightly to assist with deep breathing. However, if it’s not used appropriately, it tends to pull the shoulder blade forward followed by the shoulder itself.
Try this little experiment
Take a deep breath in, expand your chest, then, while maintaining your chest height, exhale, and feel your shoulder blades ease into a more relaxed position, without engaging the muscles around it.
If you want a postural assessment to check out the muscle imbalances, come down for a massage at the Waterloo Sports Massage Clinic!
In the meantime, here is a simple stretch to follow. (If you have any concerns of underlying health issues, please consult a medical professional first).
- Lunge through a doorway nice and low.
- Place your hands on both sides of the door frame with your elbows pointing down.
- Push through the door frame and lunge upward slightly.
- If you feel your shoulder blade coming back into a position that feels more natural – without engaging the rhomboids (the muscles between the shoulder blade and the spine) – then you’ve got the position.
- Take 5-10 deep breaths, as you feel the stretch.
- If the stretch for whatever reason hurts, more than the minor discomfort of a slight stretch, stop immediately.
After giving this stretch a go, you might still feel tight and sore, but some relief. That’s where massage finds its place. Those smaller back muscles have been working overtime, they need help now. A massage will help provide fresh nutrients, blood flow, and oxygen, to those tired guys, giving them the break they need.
This article is only meant as advice for one potential cause for shoulder or upper back stiffness, if you would like a more detailed assessment and thorough treatment, come see me at the Waterloo Sports Massage Clinic.
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