You may not even realize you need this!
In everyday movement, we may take our clavicle (collarbone) for granted. It attaches to to significant muscles and provides critical stability. When it's not moving as freely as it should, we can feel as if we can't take a deep breath, can't stand up straight, and can't move our neck and head easily. Understanding how to mobilize the clavicle, therefore, becomes very important.
The clavicle is sits above the first rib, at the sternum, and notches nicely into a part of the scapula (shoulder blade) called the “acromion process.” Understanding both of these attachments is critical in understanding how to mobilize this bone: The sternum has little or no movement in daily life; the scapulae, on the other hand, have an incredible range of movement. Every time we move our arms, the scapulae move, and therefore, the clavicle moves. The clavicle can also move independent of the sternum. This occurs when we shrug our shoulders, for example. Many ligaments are located in this region, and their job is mainly to keep the clavicle from dislocating. While we can't “stretch” ligaments, we can move them through the actions they allow, mobilizing and creating the feeling of freer movement.
As we learned above, to stretch the clavicle completely, we need to move it both at the sternal and scapular attachments. Although these motions are simple, we don't perform them in daily life, so take these stretches slowly and mindfully.
Begin standing with your arms at your sides, slightly pulled toward your back.
Flip your palms up so they are facing away from your body.
Touch your thumbs and fingertips together, but don't interlace them.
Keeping your fingertips touching, slowly move your palms toward the ceiling.
Your focus with this movement is not squeezing your scapulae together, it's moving your clavicles away from your sternum and up toward the ceiling. Gently let your neck and head fall backwards to increase the stretch. You may find that one side of your chest/neck is tighter at this point; you can move your chin gently toward the side that hurts, then the opposite side, and even in small circles to help mobilize the joints.
Don't hold the stretch for a very long time; you may tense more muscles than joints you help. After the stretch, move your arms freely and try to let your shoulders relax completely.
This is a fantastic stretch to try after sitting for a long time, like at your desk, in a car or on a plane. It's also great first thing in the morning as our clavicles often get a little squished while we sleep. Give it a try and I'm confident you'll feel that you can move your upper body more easily. As for the attached muscles, I can help you work that out at your next massage therapy session in my Westport office. I'll see you there!
Open up your entire chest and shoulder
Injuries abound as yard working season begins. I see many lower back and shoulder issues from clients as they create their backyard paradises. I've discussed lower back stretches previously, and this week I'm focusing on shoulder issues.
The shoulder is a complicated joint, but often, the pectoralis muscles are implicated in anterior (front) shoulder pain. That's actually good news; the pec group is one of the easiest to stretch.
The pectoralis group (including “major” and “minor”) attach from about the sternum, across the chest to the top of the upper arm. This means that in order to stretch them, we need to move the upper arm farther away from the sternum. One could just hold the arm behind the body, pretending to fly upward, but there's an easier and more effective way.
Position your body perpendicular to a wall, with enough space to reach your arm behind yourself completely.
Place your palm flat against the wall, directly behind yourself in a straight line from your shoulder. To complete the stretch, inch your body closer to the wall, until you're touching it. To deepen the stretch even more, hinge your body farther away from the wall, moving from being exactly perpendicular to facing farther away from the wall.
Breathe deeply, don't bounce and move slowly and deliberately.
To engage your pec minor muscle in the stretch, slide your palm from parallel to the floor to about 45 degrees. Many people find stretching this muscle FAR more difficult, but more valuable as well. The pec minor specifically can be implicated in nerve pain down the arm, so learning to condition it is extremely good for the body.
Stretching this muscle group before and after yard work and exercise is so effective! Since the muscles are so large and superficial, you'll note that you can train them fairly easily and should notice a difference quickly. I recommend stretching them at least before use, when waking up and before bed. When your chest is clear and open, you'll feel like you can stand up straighter and breathe more easily. You'll love these stretches! And when you need a little more help with tension or a demonstration of these stretches, book a massage therapy appointment. I'll see you in my Westport office!
The hips are a complicated area. There's simply no denying that. In researching this entry, I wanted to post a simple illustration of the musculature of the hip – I'm now pretty sure there is no simple, complete illustration. (Google image search “Hip Musculature” to see.) This is because our hip joint is huge; it's the largest in the body, carrying the most weight. But since our legs can also move in all directions, it's also incredibly flexible. Many large and small muscles are required to allow this mixture of strength and flexibility. Those small (and large) muscles are used constantly, and therefore are subject to pain and decreased mobility. My absolute favorite method for training hip muscles is ballet.
I've recommended another ballet stretch before (Rond de Jamb: remaleymassage.com/blog/2015/01/06/1420555080000.html) in order to increase range of motion and control of hip muscles. I recommended the below technique to a client complaining of IT band/TFL pain. This is the area along side side of our thigh, running from the hip joint to below the knee. The IT band is, in fact, not a muscle, but a band of fascial connective tissue. This can make it even tighter and more difficult to train. Not impossible, though, and the below exercise is my go-to when my thighs feel tight.
Begin standing with your legs straight, toes pointed out gently to a narrow “V.”
You may softly bend the knees a few times to warm up the joints. You can perform these movements while holding on to a chair, or with your arms stretched out at shoulder height, for balance.
Reach one leg, with pointed toes, out to the front of your body, as far as they can comfortably reach while still grazing the floor. Return to center. Point the toes to the side of the body; return to center. Point the toes back; return to center. And lastly point to the side again; return to center. This is one repetition of a ballet “Tendu.” Repeat 4-8 times on both legs, until you begin to feel the muscles release and the movement become easier.
The beautiful simplicity of this movement lies in the fact that it uses almost all of the muscles of the hip. Mastering it, therefore, is going to make you more aware of body patterns, while simultaneously releasing tension you may not have been aware of. It's easy to do any where, any time, when you feel your thighs and knees could use a little attention. Combined with the ROND DE JAMB, it's a wonderful complete hip workout!
As always, I'm happy to demonstrate any of these techniques in my office. And should you find that stretching and strengthening leave you still in need of care, schedule an appointment for a massage therapy session. I'll see you in my Westport office!