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  • Mitchell Rothbardt

Shoulders and the Chain Pt. 1

Shoulders are far and away the biggest problem area I see every day. Yes, even more than backs. There are several reasons for that but I feel that the biggest one is simply that WE SIT TOO MUCH! I’ll bet you’re sitting now. In fact, I’ll bet you’re sitting with the standard shoulders slumped forward and head forward position.

By the way, I’ll wager that if you’re not sitting then you’re reading this on your phone and looking down, so you’re not off the hook either!

The problems with bad shoulders goes far beyond just a little pain in your shoulders. Tight shoulders can lead directly to poor posture which can lead directly to back pain, arm pain, neck pain and a generally poor quality of life.

How does this happen? Well, let’s start with some very basic anatomy concerning our spine. I know we’re talking shoulders but follow me. The section of our spine where our shoulders reside (called the thoracic spine, or T-spine for short) is designed to have a great deal of mobility. The section below that (the lumbar spine) is not. When our shoulders are tight, our T-spine doesn’t move very well and our body, needing to get movement from somewhere, gets that movement from our lumbar spine area. This can cause back pain over time. Also, there are a lot of nerves that run through those areas of our bodies and they can be compressed or pinched through poor posture which can lead to the arm or neck pain I was talking about.

All of my clients know that the number one most important thing to me is that they maintain good positions and it isn’t surprising that the shoulders play a huge part in that. We all understand, at least to some extent, that our bodies are a chain. In other words what happens at one part of our body effects the whole thing. Let’s quickly examine how our shoulder health effects us.

Here is a picture of someone standing in good posture.

Notice that you can draw a straight line down from the ear, through the middle of the shoulder, through the ankle. Now let’s picture what would happen with tight shoulders. It would look something like this:

I think you can tell the difference. With the shoulder tightness comes what’s called “forward head posture”, which leads to a very misaligned spine and a pretty bad pelvic tilt that can lead to that bad back we’re all afraid of, among a number of other ailments. None of which are very good.

Well, how do we go about fixing this? In my opinion, it comes down to a four-way approach:

1. Awareness 2. Soft-Tissue work 3. Mobility 4. Strength

Let’s talk about number 1. Awareness.

It really comes down to this. I see my clients maybe 3-4 hours a week at most, and some I may only see for 1 or 2. That means that there’s between 164 to 167 hours a week that I don’t see someone. What do you think has the potential to effect someone more, 165 hours or 3?

What I can do is impress upon my clients how important it is to monitor and think about their posture for the other 165 or so hours of the week as well as show them what good posture is and how it feels. It’s no surprise that those that do think about about it see results much quicker than those that don’t.

You see, we develop habits and movement patterns, both good and bad, over time. These are the things that effect us most, and unless we change the bad ones and reinforce the good ones it is very hard, if not impossible, to change certain things. That’s why awareness simply has to be number one.

Number 2 is soft-tissue work. If you don’t know what that means, let’s call it massage or some variation of that. When our shoulders are rounded there are particular areas of our body that tend to be very tight due to being either over-stretched or shortened. For example, compare the “bad-posture” picture above to the “good-posture” picture. Let’s take a look at two areas, the upper back and the chest. It’s pretty easy to see that in the “bad-posture” pic the muscles in the upper back are over-overstretched and the muscles in the chest are shortened. What this leads to are knots in those areas which cause movement restictions that reinforce that bad posture. We need to break up those knots using things like foam-rolling or other soft-tissue techniques. While this may be pretty uncomfortable or even downright painful at first, over time it will loosen up and allow you to move and feel better. In my experience, about two weeks of foam-rolling 3-4 times a week will clear up the majority of even the most bound-up areas. The bonus is that after that, it actually starts to feel pretty good!

In my next article I’ll talk about numbers 3 and 4 in the tree, mobility and strength, how to apply them and why I order these things the way I do.

If you have any questions about any of this or how it applies to you, please drop me an email or give me a call.

Mitch Rothbardt, CPT, PN Lean Eating Coach Mitch Rothbardt Fitness at 2861 Grove Way Castro Valley’s Premier Fitness Facility I Help People Discover Their Strength 510-754-7113 Boost Your Metabolism With My Free Report

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