Doing a pec stretch regularly can be a great option for modern workers. A common postural complaint and one that can be exacerbated by office work is forward or rounded shoulders. Many desk based workers are concerned that their shoulder posture doesn’t look very nice, that they have a slouched sitting position and accompanying discomfort running along the top of the shoulders into the neck and in some cases quite a prominent ‘bump’ has formed at the base of the neck.
Aside from the visual aspects of rounded shoulders, if left untreated, significantly poor shoulder positioning can have detrimental effects on the health of the spine, as the associated muscles and joints are under undue stress and load and result all too often in anything from pain across the tops of the shoulders to burning sensations, radiating pain and disc herniations. There will also be compensatory muscular imbalance further down the body potentially leading to lower back pain and other seemingly unrelated discomforts as well as an increased potential for injury. This is why a pec stretch can be so beneficial.
Why are my shoulders rounded?
Firstly, it can help to understand a little bit about the anatomy of the shoulder joint. ‘Shoulder’ is not an anatomical term. Massage therapists would instead talk about the glenohumeral joint, which is name given to the shallow joint created by the joining of the clavicle (collar bone) and the (scapula) shoulder blade which create the articulating surfaces for the humerus (upper arm). The joint needs to shallow to provide the full range of movement we require. The shoulder is then held together with some ligaments (although much less than other less moveable joints of the hip and knee) and a set of muscles called the rotator cuff muscles. The muscles of the shoulder therefore work to keep the joint together and in the right place and to move the arm at the joint. With a lot of jobs to do, it’s no wonder some of these muscles can get overworked and tired.
When our shoulders become rounded, what is actually happening is that the upper arm has generally rotated internally in the joint and the clavicle is pulled forward. The shoulder blades pull apart from one another and slide up, rotating often into a winged position where the bottom tips of the shoulder blades protrude.
Once this happens the weight of the shoulders in front of the body leads the upper body to follow forward and down into a slouched position, and the muscles between the skull, the back of the neck and the shoulder blades become short and tight as the head is pulled back to compensate the shift of the body forward. Headaches, radiating pain, difficulty in putting on a jacket as well as numerous other side effects can occur with this faulty pattern of musculature.
Many people compensate by tightening the lower back in an effort to sit up straight, when often some deep tissue massage and a pec stretch to the chest muscles would be more effective. So how can doing a pec stretch help?
How to fix rounded shoulders
Remedial massage therapists will work to open up the tight chest muscles, treat the muscles over the back of the shoulder blade which are rotating the arm excessively and soothe the pain between the shoulder blades. Compensatory tight muscles above and below the shoulders will also be treated including massage to the lower back and neck and follow up stretches and self massage will often be advised.
How to stretch the chest muscles | Stretches for rounded shoulders
- Position yourself with the wall beside you and gently reach your hand behind you, palm flat against the wall.
- Rotate your body away from the wall slowly until you feel a stretch across from your sternum to your shoulder. You may even feel the stretch down the length of your biceps and into your hand. You should not feel any pain.
- Ensure you don’t let the shoulder rotate forwards.
- Keep breathing and hold the stretch for around 30 seconds to one minute.
- Repeat on the other side and repeat regularly throughout the day.
- You can try altering the height of your palm/angle of your arm to achieve the best pec stretch.
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