Shoulder and Neck Pain Relief
Yesterday, while working with people at the Health Fair, I was surprised by how much neck and shoulder pain I heard about and how little people understood about the cause of this pain or how to prevent it. Much of my time is spent working with clients who have been working with me for awhile and who have some body education. Seeing the absence of this education in the general public was quite a revelation for me. So today I will share a few things to get you thinking about how to prevent shoulder and neck pain.
- Posture is king However, I have found very little awareness of what good posture really means. If someone says, “Watch your posture!” what do you naturally do? I find most people squeeze their shoulders together and arch their lower back. It feels awful – so of course as soon as you quit performing you go back to your regular posture. However, what you need to understand is that good posture is merely stacking the arches of the body on top of each other so the body is long and supported, and it feels really good. A few months ago I wrote a blog post about these arches of the body and how they should stack, and I would encourage you to look that up and study it. In brief form, the arches of the feet are the foundation of the structure. The pelvic floor arch stacks on top of them. The diaphragm arch stacks on top of that. The ribcage arch stacks on top of that, the roof of the mouth arch stacks on top of that, and the crown of the head arch stacks on top of that. Each arch supports the next arch into this beautifully aligned and strong structure. So begin by checking your arches and taking inventory of their position and well being.
- Breath support is key The breath supports and strengthens the ribcage. Your breath is operated by the lungs and the diaphragm. When you breathe, the diaphragm comes down into the abdominal area, and the lungs expand out into the ribcage. The ribcage is made up of bone and cartilage which attach the ribcage to the spine in the back and the sternum bone or breast bone in the front. In between each of those rib bones are little muscles which expand and contract with the breath. Ideally, as we breathe in, the diaphragm extends down into the abdominal cavity as it fills with air, and the lungs expand out against the inside of the ribcage in all directions, causing the rib bones to separate on the inhale and those muscles to stretch and open up the ribcage. On the exhale the diaphragm returns back up under the ribcage, and the ribs all contact back towards each other. This 360 degree breathing is critical to understand and learn and work with. This is how we begin to build strength from deep inside the body. Any mind body movement such as yoga, pilates, tai chi, gyrotonics, etc., uses the breath as the foundation and driver of the movement. It is also the foundation of your posture.
- Ribcage position rules The neck and shoulders can only go where the the ribcage takes them. The neck and head and shoulders sit on top of the ribcage. If the ribcage is not lifted and actively breathing and holding the body, the top of the body does not have a chance to be in a happy place or feel good. Most of us are very familiar with slumping forward and dropping the ribcage towards the pelvis. This is a big problem. Interestingly, athletes may have a similar problem for a different reason. They believe that having strong abs requires that they actively pull the ribcage down towards the pelvis. So even though the slump is inactive and passive, and the strong ab pull is active, the result is often the same—less space between the ribcage and pelvis, less movement of the ribcage and diaphragm and the breath, less support of the ribcage, and more tension in the neck and shoulders. Figuring out how to position and support the ribcage in its happy place is a very big deal.
- Ribcage placement is important for neck and shoulders but also for your internal organs Somewhere from the top of your ribcage to the top of your public bone live all your organs vital to survival—heart, lungs, liver, spleen, kidneys, etc. If you think about the importance of space and circulation to these vital organs, the importance of the ribcage placement takes on even more magnitude. Lifting and supporting the ribcage with the breath gives them all more room AND more circulation. Circulation is the most critical element of health and wellbeing for these organs. It is circulation of the blood that takes all the bad stuff out and brings all the good stuff in.
- The shoulders are meant to gently drape over a happily placed ribcage Eric Franklin used the image of a cape, and I like that. Think of the ribcage strongly placed in its correct alignment, and the shoulders just draping around it like a cape.
- The neck and head lift and balance happily on the correctly placed ribcage When the arches of the body are correctly stacked, with the top of the ribcage arch where it should be, the top of the head can lift and balance itself on top of this with very little effort.
So there you have it. You will know when you have achieved it because your neck and shoulders will feel almost weightless and very, very happy.
While a forward dropping ribcage has been a problem for society for a long time, computers and cell phones have exponentially increased the problem. We truly live in a head and ribcage forward world. Being aware of this is a first step. Ergonomically placing our work equipment in ways that prevents this is good. Also taking frequent breaks to release these patterns is very important. And breathe….deeply and a lot…..and work with your breath to open up restricted areas.I was grateful to be part of the Washburn Health Fair yesterday and look forward to next year’s event. I have an even deeper appreciation for the health and wellness educators of the world who are actively teaching these principles. I hope we can bring more awareness, deeper breathing, happier internal organs, and less painful neck and shoulders to all those who will hear our warnings.
If you have taught or been taught these principles using other methods or analogies, or if you have your own story of how learning about this has helped you, I would love for you to share.