I hear this statement from almost every client that walks in my office door. It seems that nearly everyone suffers from neck and shoulder tension which can progress to achiness or areas of pain. Computers, smartphones and tablets, bucket seats in cars, and even recliners seem to push the shoulders and neck forward keeping the pectoralis muscles in a constant state
of contraction and hyperextending the upper back and neck muscles. And as we age and our balance becomes more compromised we find we look at our feet as we walk—further bending us forward and also shortening the muscles in the front part (anterior) of our hips.
But with focus on posture and using simple aids, we can begin to reclaim how we sit, stand, and walk usually resulting in a decrease of discomfort in the neck and upper back. Consider some of the items below to see if they are helpful for you. As with all exercises, you will want to check with your physician to make sure there is nothing contraindicated to your personal situation.
· Use a wall (opposite a mirror if possible): Stand with your back against the wall--your feet should be hip-width apart and the heels either next to the wall or a couple of inches forward of the wall. Gently push your low back toward the wall and don’t lock your knees. Shoulders should be down away from your ears and pushed back against the wall with the rhomboid muscles engaged. Tuck the chin slightly and gently push the back of your head against the wall. How does this feel? Balanced or awkward? Are you able to stand straighter and do you look taller than the normal semi-hunched forward position? Can you hold this posture and take a few steps forward?
· Use a rolled-up bath towel secured with rubber bands: When sitting in your favorite chair or embarking on a long drive, consider putting rolled towel vertically down your back. This will help counteract the shoulders from being pushed forward and allow you to gently stretch them back. If you are in that comfy chair to read a book, don’t forget a sturdy pillow or lap desk to raise the level of the book which helps keep your head straighter and more aligned with your spine.
· While lying on the floor face up, again use the rolled towel or you can use a ½ foam roller or 6” round foam roller on the floor and under your spine—one end under your head and the opposite end under the sacrum. Have your knees bent hip-width apart and feet flat on the floor. Your arms should be at your side and the palms of your hand facing up. Gently move the hands and forearms away from the body while keeping them in contact with the floor. Only go as far as you can without lifting the arms away from the floor. Do you feel your chest muscles open up? Relax for a few seconds and then try it again. Did you go further? Can you comfortably hold this position for a few minutes? Again, this is helping counteract the forward shoulder position which stresses your upper back and neck.
Consider working with a Personal Trainer or Physical Therapist to help you with these and other positions. They will also coach you through exercises that will strengthen weak muscles and elongate shortened/contracted muscles. Of course, massage can also be helpful to your wellness plan, and working in tandem with PT massage should help you see your results more quickly. In our next post, we will look more at hips, glutes, and legs and their effect on posture and balance.
Valerie Lapcinski, LMT, BCTMB, is licensed as a massage therapist in the states of New Mexico and Maryland. She works using a variety of modalities to help her clients with issues that can be positively affected by medical massage therapy. You can find her at https://theramassage.net