Over the past 6 weeks, I have been seeing lots of arm and shoulder problems in yoga classes and in my massage treatment room. I was blaming the long, cold winter, which has seeped into everyone’s bones – hunched up, shoulders rolling forward in an effort to keep out the weather – not surprising really.
I recently had two cases, both fit active people – one a life-long tennis player, the other a competitive rower – both tall and therefore a tendency to stoop, and the arm problems had got so bad that one couldn’t serve a ball, the other couldn’t take her t-shirt off! So it’s not just about building strength; something else was going on and the common thread was posture.
Whenever someone comes to me with frozen shoulder, it’s often preceded by an activity like moving house, lifting heavy things up or down, or spring gardening, holding tools above shoulder height for long periods cutting hedges. The sort of strenuous activities one doesn’t do very often. It’s not just that we need to be stronger – as I said, these people were already strong, in both cases. What we need is much better postural awareness when we’re doing these activities so that we don’t hunch up, roll the shoulders forward, and end up trying to do them with our delicate neck muscles instead of using our much stronger backs.
Try this: stand up. Imagine your posture is slightly stooped. Notice how your shoulders roll forward, your chest drops, and your shoulder blades lift up. Now, exaggerate the slouch a bit and SLOWLY try to lift your arms upwards and outwards. (Don’t go quickly – you will hurt yourself.) Notice how your chest drops further, shoulder blades lift more, and your neck and shoulder muscles become ‘bunched up’. It’s painful and your arms feel incredibly heavy – they won’t lift very far.
So, when lifting our arms up, especially above shoulder height ,we must learn how to change which muscles are involved by moving the shoulder blades DOWN
and lifting the chest UP first.
How do we learn that action?
Clasp your hands lightly behind the back. Focus on the upper arm bones and roll them very slightly back. Observe how your shoulder blades move down and become firm into your back ribs. Notice how your chest lifts and your shoulders roll back. Do this a few times to really understand – it’s only a small movement.
Do it again and HOLD IT. Notice how your lower back muscles are also activated by this action – you need these to provide stability when taking your arms above shoulder height, otherwise your neck has to do all the work.
Clasp hands behind again for a few moments, stretch your pectorals, take your shoulder blades down, and engage your lower back muscles. Now release your hands and try again to slowly lift your arms out and up whilst MAINTAINING this action. See how the arms feel lighter and move much more easily?
As we say in Iyengar Yoga – Alignment before Extension, if you want to avoid A&E!