As bipeds, our hip joints mainly support upright standing and locomotion, where our shoulder joints are responsible for articulating movement in front of, beside and behind the body. Whether that may be grasping, reaching, swinging, holding, lengthening, or bending of our arms, while also using the elbows as a hinge, there are many ranges of motion and areas of articulation in the shoulders.
Here are some stretches to mobilize and counteract the hunched over position or tightness that may stem from sitting at a desk for too long, or counteracting the built up tension from aggravated use of the arms.
Back extension: target the upper back
Low Cobra pose
This wide stance variation, allows the chest to move forward, creating more space to find length in the thoracic spine.
One of my favourite upper back stretches - this cobra pose variation takes a very wide stance with the hands.
Lying on your belly, palms under shoulders, squeeze the elbows to center:
- Root the pubic bone down
- Push finger tips into ground to lengthen through arms, lifting the chest
- Reach heart forward, roll shoulders back, look straight forward
Low cobra pose
(side profile) Look for length in the spine, as opposed to height as the heart reaches forward →
If you feel crunching in the lower lumbar spine, lower down a few inches, coming onto palms, instead. The weight should be maintained down in the pubic bone, not the hands. You should be looking to elongate the back of the neck, and thoracic spine by rolling the shoulders down and away from the ears.
Maintain the elevation of your shoulders as you lower the chest down by keeping a slight bend in your elbows and actively press finger tips in the ground.
Cobra pose with a twist
Dip your left shoulder down, as you look over your right. Return back to center, chest forward. Dip your right shoulder down, as you look over your left.
Repeat on both sides 2x.
During the twist, you will feel the rhomboids lengthen, alleviating any tension between the spine and each shoulder blade.
Roll out the levator scapulae
Have you tried rolling out? Using a tune-up ball, a foam block, and the wall, this gentle massage releases tension at the base of the neck, leading into the shoulders.
Place the ball along the top of the shoulder, close to the base of the neck just outside of the spine. Here you will find the levator scapulae, which functions to elevate the scapula (i.e. shrugging the shoulders.) This area can get tight on either side of the neck if you carry heavy shoulder bags, sleep on your side, or have poor postural tendencies to hunch your shoulders up and forward.
Beware the hunchback
The muscles along the back of neck, the trapezius, and the fascia of the cervical spine are locked long, where the muscle becomes strained. In addition, the muscles in the front of the chest, the pectoralis major and fascia of the chest are locked short, where the muscle is bunched.
Bad postural habits can occur when we slouch our shoulders forward, carry heavy loads on our shoulders, tilt our shoulders forward when sitting in front of the computer, or looking at our mobile devices.
Thus, in order to alleviate the overcompensation of the trapezius, we must focus on lengthening and strengthening the shortened muscles in the front of the chest.
Roll out the pecs
Starting from the sternum, in the middle of the chest, roll a tune-up ball towards the armpit along the wall. Repeat on both sides.
Keep the arm at shoulder height, palm and inner line of the arm pressing into the wall as closely as possible, without impingement.
Massaging out the neck
Compressing the suboccipitals not only releases the tension in the cervical spine around the base of the skull (really effective if you have headaches and migraines). It provides additional relief from eye strain if you stare at digital screens or look at small details a work under low lighting.
Do you currently roll out?
HAVE YOU NOTICED ANY SIGNIFICANT DIFFERENCES IN THe shoulders and back of neck?