I often work with clients who report repeated episodes of neck and shoulder pain. Sometimes these symptoms are also accompanied by frequent headaches and TMJ pain. It is not uncommon for these clients to enlist a series of pain medications, anti-inflammatories or muscle relaxers to manage their pain. Perhaps the symptoms may be temporarily minimized, but will this really address the true problem?
In our modern world, many things have improved with innovation. However, much of this innovation has left us assuming improper postural positions for extended periods of time as we commute to and from work, sit behind a desk or computer all day and then collapse on the sofa for hours of TV or perhaps gaming and social media on a hand held tablet. Overtime, your shoulders stay rounded forward and your neck becomes positioned out in front of your body. To even attempt to sit up in proper posture with your head in alignment with your body becomes an uncomfortable feat that is nearly impossible to attain.
Maybe you have read some of my other blog articles and are starting to think, “Why is this women always writing about posture?” I keep writing about it because I keep seeing the long term effects of it in my clients. Poor posture is just the visible part of much deeper issues. Decreased breath capacity and decreased oxygen intake; increased compression on nerves and blood vessels; increased pressure on the TMJ, vertebral joints and shoulder girdle; and adaptive shortening of numerous muscles, tendons, and connective tissues are just a few of the issues that cause underlying mayhem in your body.
For the purpose of this article, I am just going to address the shoulder and some of the problems that occur as a result of rounded posturing. The shoulder girdle is a complex area due to it’s need for stability as well as the need for mobility. Here is a test you can perform right now: Slump your posture forward and allow your back and shoulders to round. Now lift your arms overhead as high as your can. Do you feel tightness, pinching, or an inability to get your arms all the way up? Next, sit up straight with your ear aligned with your shoulder. Now lift your arms again. What feels different? Does it feel easier to lift? Is there less restriction and greater ease of movement? The answer should be yes, and that’s only one reason good posture is so important in regard to the long term impact on our bodies.
Of course our bodies are amazingly resourceful and adaptive, but let me be real here. There is no way around subtle damage occurring in the shoulder joint when you have the posture of rounded shoulders that leads to a skull that is mis-aligned way out in front of the shoulder. Outside of forceful impact injuries, many shoulder problems are due to improper alignment and mechanics that slowly wreak havoc on the rotator cuff tendons and the tendon of the biceps. Perhaps you or someone you know has had a “bone spur” in their shoulder.
Now a spur is not something that occurs overnight. It is caused by years of inflammation due to faulty posturing and movement patterns. Just like your body forms scar tissue due to the inflammation response at a wound site, the inner body can do the same thing with repeated micro-wounds to the joints. As the fibrous tissues continue to lay down layer after layer, a bone-like protuberance forms and thereby creates a situation where the surrounding tissues such as muscles, tendons and cartilage are now subjected to greater friction and subtle trauma with every movement.
Overtime, the tendons weaken and when presented with a sudden movement or unexpected load on the joint, may possibly tear. Maybe you have heard the term, “torn rotator cuff”. Once this happens, the joint has now lost some important stability. Since the body tries its best to adapt and survive any circumstance, other muscles begin to accommodate and work outside their intended purpose to support the shoulder since the shoulder is the stabilizing joint that places our hand anywhere in space for the purpose to eat, work or perform hygiene tasks to name just a few. Pain often begins to spread to the neck, shoulder blade and down into the arm as more and more accommodation takes place. Now these other areas are being submitted to inflammation and subtle trauma. Soon the low back and hand get into the picture, and on and on the snowball grows.
So now that you know some of the shoulder problems that can stem from rounded posturing, what are 3 simple things you can do to improve your posture and prevent injury and chronic pain in your shoulder?
- Take breaks periodically at work to sit up at the edge of your chair aligning the ear, shoulder and hip in a straight line. Take slow, deep belly breaths while maintaining this position for one minute.
- Squeeze the shoulder blades together and clasp your hands behind your back. Breathe deeply, expanding through the chest for 30-60 seconds while squeezing the blades.
- Squeeze your shoulder blades down toward your back pockets prior to and during any overhead arm lifting. This helps to better position the bone in the socket, so to speak, and to minimize unnecessary stress on the soft tissues of the joint.
The old adage that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure is very true when it comes to shoulder pain. If you have questions or comments, please feel free to contact me or write in below. I am always happy to help you learn tools for better health and wellness that work.