Exercises for Shoulder and Neck Relief
After my last backbend article, I continued to research the importance of extension work with joint decompression to relieve neck and shoulder pain. To find the balance in the body, one must practice extension (yin) to compliment hours of contraction (yang). Most people spend at least 8 hours a day on the computer, smart phone, driving, or in many of my friend's cases holding babies. All of these positions contract our shoulders forward, which then push the neck forward overtaxing our trapezius muscles. The trapezius muscles are the two large triangular shaped muscles that start at the base of the skull extending down to the middle back and move laterally to the middle (spine) of the shoulder blade. The function of the trapezius is to lift, drop and squeeze the shoulder-blade toward the spine when the spine is stable as well as stabilize the shoulder blade when the spine is in motion. The trapezius, itself, is not the most common cause of neck and shoulder pain in the curve of the shoulder, the levator scapula is, but because the trapezius is one of the largest muscles in the body, it holds most of the tension. To prevent future shoulder and neck pain the front (anterior) of the shoulders should be continually stretched, such as in a backbend. If an overworked and tight trapezius muscle is not immediately addressed, it can cause a splitting headaches, chronic pain in the neck, tops of the shoulders and in between the shoulder blades. The most common problem that exacerbates tension and pain in the neck and shoulders is when the neck is held in an unnatural position. The answer is to figure out how to keep the head as upright as possible avoiding rotation, while relaxing your shoulders and arms by your sides. Obviously, in this fast pace computer dominated world this position is unrealistic 80% of the day, so to combat trapezius tension I've given you 3 exercises to relieve trapezius tension and decompress the upper back. Double Leg Traction Stretch:
Start with your feet facing forward and wider then shoulder width apart. Place your hands wider than shoulder distance apart on anything that is stable enough to hold your bodyweight. I'm using a ballet bar, but you can use a stair railing, a large sink, or the end of your sofa. Shift your weight back into your heels and pull your tail bone and bootie directly behind you, stretching your arms straight and slightly bending your legs. Gaze at the floor. Feel your upper back and shoulders widen. Bend your knees stopping before your knees shift over your toes and keeping your back flat. Keeping your back flat and bootie up, slowly try to straighten your legs. Bend and straighten your legs 5 times. Roll your spine up one vertebra at a time to a straight upright position. Repeat 3 times.
Bonus (with spinal rotation)- Once your hips are shifted back and your back in straight, bend the right knee only and straighten the left leg. Rotate your torso and head to the right, shifting your right ribcage to the ceiling. Let your head relax onto your left arm. Slowly bend and straighten the right leg 3 times. Come back to center and repeat on the other side.
Sitting or standing forward facing, pull your chin in towards your neck, as though your trying to give yourself a double chin. Hold for 5 seconds, lengthening the back of the neck. Repeat 3-5 times. Continue as many times as desired throughout your day.
Criss Cross Arms Traction Stretch:
Start with your feet facing forward and wider then shoulder width apart. Cross your right hand over your left hand about a foot apart and grab on to anything that is stable enough to hold your bodyweight. I'm using a ballet bar, but you can use a stair railing, a large sink, or the end of your sofa. Shift your weight back into your heels and pull your tail bone and bootie directly behind you, stretching your arms straight and slightly bending your legs. Feel the stretch between your shoulder-blades as your back widens. Look forward between your arms. Bend your legs stopping before your knees shift over your toes. Keeping your back straight and bootie up slowly try to straighten your legs feeling your hamstrings stretch. Bend and straighten your legs 3 times and then bring your back up straight to a standing position. Lift your chest up to the ceiling. Switch arms and repeat.