One of the most common problem areas clients need me to address are, drum roll please, neck and shoulders. Whether you’re driving, doing dishes, computer work, or nursing your baby, many of us find ourselves laboring over our work. Your back hurts, but your pectoral muscles may be to blame. These muscles become short and want to stay in their shortened position, causing rounded shoulders and postural deficiencies.
Occasionally you may try and sit up straight, but 3 seconds into it, you realize it’s difficult and tiring. Passively elongating your upper chest muscles can bring about balance to your upper body; helping to relieve your upper back and neck tension!
Simply place your hand comfortably on a wall or door jam at about shoulder height, elbow can be straight or bent, whichever is more effective, and pivot away. Breath deeply into the stretch, taking the stretch further as the muscles release. This stretch should always feel good, like a morning stretch, and in no way compromise the joint. Play with the stretch and modify it to suit your own body, and be sure to do both sides. If you feel pain, please stop immediately.
You may do this several times a day, and experience the great results!
In fact, we all have two TMJs, one in front of each ear, connecting the lower jaw bone (the mandible) to the skull. TemporoMandibular Joints, or the TMJ’s are the hinges that allow us to open and close our mouths. These joints allow for all biting, chewing and swallowing food, for speaking and for making facial expressions.
For those whose joints or muscles of the jaw mechanism are not functioning properly, pain is no stranger. Many symptoms can arise, among them, neck and shoulder tension, migraine and/or chronic headaches, jaw muscle stiffness, limited movement or locking of the jaw, painful clicking, popping or grating in the jaw joint when opening or closing the mouth, and pain and ringing in the ears.
Working these powerful muscles requires specialized training, and Neuromuscular Therapy has equipped me with the skill to address the muscles of the jaw, inside the mouth and out, often relieving the headaches, tension, pain and other gripping effects associated with TMJ dysfunction. The protocol for anterior neck and intraoral work can be uncomfortable, so good communication and trust between client and therapist is vital.
…love them? Antagonize them? Probably both. Antagonism often brings to mind the times on family car rides when your brother taunted you to the point of tears; staring at you, quietly calling you names, and then there’s the flicking. Dad glances in the rear view mirror just as your frustration reaches its apex, culminating in your moment of reckoning. I am not necessarily referring to this kind of antagonist, but we’ll come back to this later. What I am referring to is the specific way that muscles function.
Muscle Function 101-muscles only pull, they never push.
All muscles must work in pairs. This is because they can contract (shorten) and relax but cannot push or stretch themselves. When your biceps contracts, it flexes and bends the elbow joint. At the same time it also pulls the triceps to make it longer. So the triceps must relax while stretched by the biceps pulling it. When the triceps contracts, it extends (straightens) the elbow joint, and at the same time it pulls the biceps and makes it longer. So these two muscles work together. Neither muscle can stretch itself; it must be stretched by its antagonist (partner).
All of this to address the importance of working opposing muscles groups. When a client complains of pain or dysfunction in a particular area, a therapist should not only address that area, but often more importantly, the antagonists, which as we can see in the story of our family, is often the problem in the first place. We can apply this approach to most areas of the body. If the issue is your low back and SI joint, just spending 30 minutes digging into inflamed areas may simply exacerbate the problem. Keeping in mind the rule that muscles never push, your back is being pulled by something, so addressing your hip flexors is often an important key to finding relief. After a long flight or sitting for extended periods of time your hip flexors become shortened causing your back muscles to compensate trying to correct the problem. Working to open up and elongate the muscles of the anterior hip will bring about balance, reducing pain and the dysfunction that causes it. Surprisingly, you may even find these antagonists extremely tender to the touch, making the bodywork difficult to endure, which is why you should always seek a trusted therapist, clearly communicating your needs.
So, dads, while saying, “He’s trying to antagonize you, just ignore him,” may have worked to diffuse the situation, is an ultimately not a good strategy when it comes to parenting or bodywork; no, don’t ignore them, help make them accountable, balanced and functioning members.
Forward Head Posture is primarily caused by the weakening and lengthening of the upper-back and neck muscles, and tightening and shortening of the anterior muscles in the neck and chest. It takes time to develop either good or bad posture. Over time muscles and ligaments shorten on one side and lengthen on the opposite.
“For every inch of Forward Head Posture, it can increase the weight of the head on the spine by an additional 10 pounds.” -Kapandji, Physiology of Joints, Vol. 3.
Massage can help with this type of imbalance. Neuromuscular Therapy allows the release of gripping, ratcheted anterior neck muscles, restoring the neck to a more neutral position.
There is a powerful influence contributing to your headaches, neck and shoulder tension and you may have been ignoring her for many years; the Sternocleidomastoid. Named for her attachment sites, she originates at the sternum and medial portion of the clavicle, inserts at the mastoid process of the temporal bone and exists to among other things, flex and rotate the head and neck. The bilateral pair are readily visible, go to the mirror and take a deep breath, you can see the belly and proximal attachment of this graceful and commanding muscle. You can also begin to understand that when this muscle is hypertonic, it pulls the head and neck forward causing strain and imbalance.
Thoroughly addressing the SCM is often critical in resolving headaches, neck and shoulder pain, forward head posture (military neck), and even restricted respiration. Trigger Points in the SCM primarily refer pain into the head, jaw, and sternum, but can distress many functions including hearing, coordination, and vision.
Treating the SCM can be uncomfortable and even painful, but the results are off the charts! And while there are those who suggest stretching the SCM by tilting your neck from side to side, I find this can cause a lot of pressure; it fails to elongate the central fibers and aggravates the attachment points. I prefer tactilely stretching the muscle fibers specifically while working within my client’s tolerance to release tension and trigger points.
Make sure you request your trained and capable body worker to address this powerhouse pair when you get your next massage!