Who among us can't say that our shoulders are sore?
Nearly every client that comes into my Westport office for massage therapy has tight shoulders. There is some tension that only massage can help alleviate, but stretching this muscle, and awareness of it's movement, will help you immensely between office sessions. This is one of my favorite stretches to recommend to clients in my office, and I'm happy to share it with all of you!
The Trapezius (“Trap”) muscle attaches from roughly the base of the head, goes out to form what we refer to as “shoulders”, attaches to the top of the arm, moves in toward the shoulder blades, then down the spine. In this stretch, we take advantage of the attachment on the arm.
Begin by holding your ankle, as if you were going to stretch your Quad muscles.
Rather than pulling the ankle toward the back of your hip, you stretch the Trap by letting the weight of your ankle and leg pull down on your arm. Turn your neck and head to the opposite side to increase the stretch. Hold for at least 20 seconds, moving your head further if possible. Repeat on the other side.
This stretch works primarily by letting the leg pull down on the arm; if you tense your shoulder, it won't work. Let your shoulders drop as far to the ground as possible. Turning your head to the opposite side stretches the entire length of upper musculature – pay attention to any particularly tense spots up your neck. If you notice a tender area, you can turn your chin up toward the sky, even rotating it a bit to try to release the tension and increase range of motion.
Once you master this stretch, I guarantee you'll be doing it constantly! It's wonderful when you're having a stressful day, and before and after exercising.
This is probably one of my all-time favorites, so relax and enjoy! I'll see you in my Westport office!
The final challenge!
We've been building up to this challenging hip flexor stretch... Can you do it? :)
In the past few weeks, we explored the anatomy of the hip flexor muscles and two stretches to help alleviate lower back pain and increase range of motion around the pelvis. This week, the most challenging hip flexor stretch – I can't even do this one perfectly!
Hip Flexor Stretch #3
Some may recognize this as the pigeon pose in yoga; it's such a fantastic stretch that those of us not involved in a yoga practice can benefit greatly from it.
Begin by sitting on your knees on the floor. Move toward laying on the top of the right leg: Place your hands on the floor, and put the left leg in front of your body, laying the leg on the floor with the lower leg as perpendicular to your body as possible. (You may find that keeping the foot closer to your body, or even under your body will make the stretch easier. If that is the only initial flexibility your hips allow, modify the stretch accordingly.) Straighten the right leg and point the toes, if possible.
Settle into sitting on the left leg, and gently push off the right leg with your fingertips, stretching the front of the hip.
(Angled front view)
(Another angled front view)
You'll notice that this stretch concurrently works both the front of one hip and the back of the other. A little bonus. :) Breathe deeply, don't arch your back, and relax into the stretch. Repeat on the other leg.
You may begin to notice how related the front of the hip, back of the hip and low back truly are; it's difficult to affect one of these areas without affecting the others. When you come into my office for a massage therapy session, we'll address all of these areas to best alleviate pain from all angles. And you can watch me attempt this stretch! I'll see you in my Westport office!
This is 2 out of 3 in our series - see if you can do all 3!
Last time, we learned how the hip flexor muscles affect the alignment of the pelvis, and how tension in these muscles can relate to lower back pain. This week's stretch for the hip flexors is a bit more advanced, and can therefore lead to greater flexibility. Next week's stretch is the most advanced in my opinion; see which is easier for you! Perform these stretches in conjunction with simple low back stretching and you'll begin to notice easier motion walking, and even less pain sitting and laying.
Hip Flexor Stretch #2
(NOTE: This stretch may compress the low back. If you've had any lower back injuries or surgeries, it's probably not a good idea to perform this stretch, as it may aggravate previous issues. Remember to keep your abs tight (by pulling your belly button into your spine) and support your lower back as you stretch. As always, we can discuss which stretches are appropriate for you and which are not after your scheduled session at my office. Please, use good judgment and respect your body when performing any stretches.)
Begin by sitting on your knees on the floor. Reach behind yourself and hold onto your right ankle with your right hand.
Take a deep breath and raise your left hand, pointing your fingertips to the ceiling.
Slowly move your left hand diagonally toward your right foot, reaching backward and trying to touch that right foot (which is almost physically impossible). Maintain space in your low back, NOT compressing the spine at all. Reach back as far as possible, stretching the front of that hip, breathing deeply and focusing on the muscles being stretched. Repeat on the other side.
This is one of my all time favorite stretches after a long day. It almost feels as if you can breathe easier after releasing the body in this way. Relax and enjoy it! Next time, we'll explore the most challenging hip flexor stretch so far – are you up for the challenge? As always, I'm happy to demonstrate these stretches and discuss your personal flexibility more completely during your scheduled massage therapy session. I'll see you in my Westport office!