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Diana Remaley, LMT
22 Crescent Road
Westport, CT

The Angel Wall Stretch

Stretch your upper back and shoulders any where!

We rightly have our arms down at our sides almost all the time. While our shoulder joints can handle this stress, some of our muscles may fight against laying softly (stress, anyone?) and the shoulder joint can therefore hurt quite a bit. This stretch can be done any time, any where, to bring awareness to the shoulder joint (specifically, the medial border of the scapula(shoulderblade)). If you find yourself hunching your shoulders and dropping them throughout the day, I'm betting this stretch will be quite nice for you.

Anatomy Lesson:

It's worth defining some semantics before we begin: The "Shoulder" joint in anatomy refers to the glenohumeral joint; that is the "ball and socket" of your upper arm and shoulderblade. However, when clients come to my office complaining of "shoulder" pain, this is almost never the area they are describing. What we colloquially refer to as "shoulder" is often the Trapezius muscle ("Trap"). As you can see from the illustration, this is actually a huge muscle that attaches as the base of the skull, out to the edge of the shoulderblade, and back down the thoracic spine. The white areas around the shoulderblades in this picture represent the edge of the scapulas; it is this area of the trap that we are stretching with this movement.


As you can see in this picture, we are attempting to move the shoulderblade trap attachments in an outward and upward motion. This is a motion they almost never go through, and therefore feels like an amazing stretch!



The Stretch:

Begin standing against a wall, with your shoulderblades COMPLETELY flat against it. Your lower back can and should arch away from the wall a bit, but your entire upper back and head should be pressed against it. Hold your lower arms out at your sides.





Slowly and methodically raise your arms slowly up above your head, ALL THE WHILE KEEPING YOUR UPPER BACK COMPLETELY PRESSED AGAINST THE WALL. This pressure is the critical part of the stretch; your shoulderblades are going to want to pull away, using bigger muscles as support. Don't let them!









The stretch is finished when your arms are completely above your head, and your shoulderblades AND ELBOWS are firmly pressed against the wall. This is where your body will try to compensate: pulling your elbows out away from the wall. If you notice them kicking out, gently push them back flat against the wall.

Hold the stretch for at least 20 seconds, then slowly lower your arms and repeat.

This stretch should move your traps though a range of motion they almost never go through, so you may find it difficult. Your traps move in so many ways and are used so much, I'm sure this stretch will relax them and give you more insight into how they help your upper body function.

As always, if you're noticing pain or discomfort, or if the stretch doesn't help, I can always lead you in the right direction during your next massage therapy session. I'll see you in my Westport office!

Standing Posture

Are you standing as tall as you should be?

We often think of sitting all day as a killer on the body; but standing incorrectly can be just as detrimental. In this entry, I'll explore two common standing postures, why they are negative for the body, and correct standing posture.

Bad Example #1: Here, the body's pelvis is tilted toward the back. The tilt is tiny, but notice that it creates a cascade effect for the rest of the body: The knees are hyperextended (locked), the abdominal muscles are not engaged, the shoulders are slumped backward and the neck is not relaxed.

This type of standing posture will often lead to lower back pain, due to the fact that the lower back muscles are not allowed to remain in their soft curved position. This will also lead to abdominal muscle strength loss, as well as tension in the upper back and front of the neck.



Bad Example#2: In this image, the body's pelvis is tilted forward. This tilt looks more severe, but to the person tilting, it probably doesn't feel as exaggerated. Notice a similar muscle pattern occurs here; the knees are hyperextended, the abdominals are not being used correctly, and the shoulders and neck are forced to go back to compensate.

This type of posture will also lead to lower back pain, although I've seen people live with it for a long time. That is, it might take years before this type of posture begins to show signs of pain. Again, the neck and shoulders are especially affected by this type of repeated misuse.




Good Example:

The knees are gently bent, the pelvis is straight, the abdominals are pulled in tightly, the neck is pulled up from the shoulders, as in a straight line.

Here, keeping the knees slightly bent reduces fatigue on the front and back thigh muscles. I often hear clients say that their thigh muscles hurt MORE when they try to adopt this posture. I'll agree, that TEMPORARILY, you might notice discomfort when moving away from hyperextended knees. HOWEVER, this is not because the position is wrong for your body; it's merely because prior to that point, you were relying only on the strength of the knee joint to hold you up, whereas keeping the knee slightly bent relies on the muscles to keep you standing. Those muscles simply need to get stronger, and you will no longer feel pain.

Keeping the pelvis neutral can't be underestimated. This is done most easily by pulling in the abdomen; pulling your belly button toward your spine. You may notice that just this simple adjustment makes you stand a little straighter, and may even immediately reduce lower back pain. A good practice is even keeping your abdominals in while driving in your car. And hey, the more you get used to keeping them in, the easier it will be!

Finally, the neck and shoulders. This is the area I struggle with most, especially toward the end of a long day. We often let our shoulders round and slump, which pushes the neck forward. We then have to push our foreheads back just to keep from falling over! The best posture here is imagining a string pulling your entire body up from the crown of your head. This should instinctively pull your shoulders back, and your chin straight, reducing pressure on the entire upper body.

Posture is a constant battle against gravity. And if we observe elderly friends, we notice that eventually, gravity wins. However, if we pay attention to our posture and develop good habits now, we can keep that physical force at bey. More immediately, we can strengthen our muscles and hopefully, reduce pain!

I'm happy to discuss posture more at your next massage therapy session. We can compare poses and you'll see I'm far from perfect too! The key is to always keep trying to improve. I'll see you at my Westport office!

Snow Shoveling Posture

This seems appropriate today

I'm hoping that we're all snuggled up under a blanket with hot cocoa right now.  I know we don't want to think about shoveling the snow later.  But... How should one shovel snow in order to lessen the strain on the body?

Since the snow isn't nice enough to come up to our arm level, we need to bend down to shovel it. Herein lies the key to correct shoveling posture. Do we bend at the hip or at the knee? Which one of these pictures looks more correct?


If you said the second, you're right! Although it's easier to bend over from the hip and pick up the shovel with our arms and shoulders, it puts excess strain on the low back, neck and arms. In the second picture, however, essentially performing a squat motion is going to cause the least strain on the body. The knees bend, the shoulders come down directly over the hips and the rear is dropped behind. The arms are kept at a close range to the chest, keeping pressure off the upper arm muscles and engaging the core. Then lift up from the legs and glutes, pushing with force from the core to move the shoveled snow.

Sounds easy, right? Well anyone who's ever squatted with weight will tell you it's not. :) The good news is, with a bit of practice, you'll find that shoveling can be an exercise for your glutes, quads and abs, NOT your lower back and upper arms, which shouldn't be throwing the weight of a shovel-full of snow anyway.  Want some good news? Snow shoveling can burn around 350 calories per hour – so I think that's an excuse for an extra hot chocolate as a completion reward!

If you find that your posture is perfect when shoveling, and your muscles still ache, you're not the only one. That's the perfect time to come in for a session – massage therapy can ease muscle pain and increase recovery time. I'll see you in my Westport office!


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Diana Remaley, LMT
22 Crescent Road
Westport, CT