A client points between their shoulder blades and says “this is sooo tight”, “this is where I hold my stress”, or “I always have knots here”. Their therapist says “okay, we’re going to do some shoulder opening and stretching, and work on releasing the pectoral muscles.” That might sound counterintuitive when the pain is between the shoulder blades and not in the pecs, but it’s not! Here’s what’s going on...
We work and play at computers, we drive, we read, we’re on our phones, we do the dishes, we vacuum, we cook, we play video games...all of these motions pull our shoulders forward and tighten the front of the body, particularly the pectoral muscles. Rarely do we do activities that help balance this out. Our upper back muscles have to work overtime, constantly trying to pull our shoulders back into proper posture. They get stuck in a lengthened position, and they are the ones that end up with the painful trigger points. Self-care tips at the end of this blog!!
Even more... When we’re stressed, we tend to further forego our attempts at good posture, so these painful postural patterns worsen. When people say they hold their stress in this area, it’s not necessarily a case of holding emotional or situational stress there, but the way our mind focuses elsewhere when we have a lot on our plate. This also usually leads to forward head posture, which we will talk about in another post.
Often, we expect massage therapists to work on the area that hurts, and it is definitely important to relieve these symptoms. However, only releasing the area where pain is felt, without working to find and release the root cause will only worsen the pain in the long term. This is because when we relax muscles that are already weakened and overstretched and trying their hardest to be strong and correct our posture, the pattern will unfortunately only be exacerbated.
Your Dustin Palmer Bodywork & Massage therapist works not only the knots between the shoulder blades, but also the tension in the front of the shoulders and chest created by our daily postural habits that create the knots in the shoulder blades. That’s long term therapy, and that’s how you change your relationship with tension.
Here are a few of our favorite self-care exercises you can do on your own between massage appointments to help correct your shoulder posture. How long and how often you do this will vary by person, so talk to your massage therapist for your recommendations.
Wall Angels — This exercise will help rotate your shoulders back and strengthen the upper back muscles.
1) Stand with your back against a wall with your heels, glutes, shoulders, and head touching the wall.
2) Contract your core so you don’t have a big arch in your back.
3) Lift your arms up and place the back of your wrists and your elbows on the wall.
This may be enough of a challenge for now! Work at getting all of these areas to touch. Once you’re able to have all 6 points touching the wall…
4) Pull your elbows down toward your sides, making a wall angel. Focus on pinching your shoulder blades together as you come down.
5) Move your arms back up the wall and repeat the movement, being sure to keep all 6 points touching the wall at all times.
Pectoralis stretch in a doorway — This stretch will help release the front body and support the work you’re doing with the wall angels. There are three angles because there are three directions of muscle fibers.
1) Stand close to a doorway and place your whole forearm and hand on the door frame so that your elbow is at a 90 degree angle.
2) Lean forward. Your body should stay a straight plank, try not to twist as you lean forward. You should feel the stretch right in the middle of your pec muscle.
3) Move your hand up the frame and lean forward again, you’ll feel the stretch in the lower fibers - in your armpit.
4) Move your hand down the frame, you’ll feel the stretch in the upper fibers - by your collar bone.
If you like to exercise with weights, add exercises to your routine that strengthen your upper back — think bent over flies, and bent over rows. Be sure to think of them as an upper back exercise and pinch your shoulder blades together to avoid only using arm strength to pull the weights back.