Sunday, March 18, 2012

Neck, Shoulder and Arm Pain Part 2: Strengthen Long Muscles

This is the second part of the tutorial on how to keep the shoulder girdle balanced to prevent pain in the arms, back and neck. In this segment we will focus on strengthening. We will begin with a tutorial on what it means to stabilize a winged Scapula, this is what will help us understand if we are in good form (or bad) Winged=BAD. 

How to Identify and Correct a Winged Scapula

Now we will cover three versions of Scapular Push-ups (to strengthen the shoulder girdle). You should perform 2 sets of 10 reps each per exercise, only doing the version your body is ready for. If you find it difficult to hold good form in a version of the Scapular Push-up (if your scapula are winging or poking out), stick with the previous version until you are strong enough to perform the next version of exercise with good form. However, you should continue to perform all versions, even when you are strong enough to successfully complete the most challenging version. Remember, the emphasis here is on proper form and muscular balance- so if you push ahead before your body is ready, you are setting yourself up for imbalance. 

Basic Scapular Push-up

Moderate Scapular Push-up

Intermediate Scapular Push-up
*to advance you may come up off of the knees into full push- up position when you are ready.

Now for our final exercise in the series: Breast Stroke, which will strengthen the back extensors and challenge the shoulder girdle to move properly. This exercise must be performed with the head neutral (ears should not drop below the level of the shoulders- imagine you are swimming and your head and shoulders are both above water, do NOT look out at the horizon, DO look down at the water below you. Start out with 3 sets of 5 reps, move up to two sets of 10, and then 3 sets of 10.

Breast Stroke

Finally- What is that Occipital Ridge I keep mentioning, and why is it so important? Well, for starters, it is a bony landmark on the back of the scull, that indicates the very top of the spine (where the spine and the head meet). This junction is crucial for shoulder health. Our heads are very large and very heavy, and they are held up by a very long and thin neck. Ideally the head stays positioned over the shoulder girdle, where it can balance with very little help from the neck. This allows the muscles of the neck to do their REAL job, which is to move the head around. Unfortunately, we often let our head drift out in front of us, which makes our neck muscles have to carry the load of the head constantly (and the head weighs more the further forward it is). This prevents the neck from doing its REAL job effectively, and soon turns into neck pain, imbalanced neck muscles, shoulder pain, and then finally arm, elbow, wrist pain. It trickles down, just like that. So, that is why I'm always talking  about that Occipital Ridge. I like to use it to check in, making sure our head is balanced with our shoulders properly, whether sitting, standing, lying on our back or tummy- we always need to check in on this balance.

Occipital Ridge