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Diana Remaley, LMT
Diana@RemaleyMassage.com
(203)292-5362
19 Compo Road South
Westport, CT

Stretching the Trap, revisited

This muscle group is likely tight right now!

This is a re-post of one of my oldest blog entries, from 2015.  The stretch itself is still one that I show 80% of my new clients, so I wanted to revamp this entry. It's worth it to get this move correct!

If you're feeling tension in your neck and shoulders, give this one a try.

Anatomy Lesson:

 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.

This stretch works 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.

 The stretch:

Begin by holding your ankle, as if you were going to stretch the front of your thigh.

 

 

 Rather than pulling your ankle toward the back of your hip, 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.  Ideally, your ear would be able to touch your shoulder. I have to admit, though, mine only comes close on my most relaxed day!

Repeat on the both sides.

 

If you're stuck in your office chair or in a car, you can still do this stretch, just by grabbing the bottom of your seat instead of your ankle.  It's not AS complete, but it works in a pinch.

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.

And remember that massage therapy is fantastic for the traps in particular.  Book a session today if you're still feeling some tension.  I'll see you in my Westport office!

A Plantar Foot Stretch

Dealing with stubborn heel pain? This movement can help!

Plantar fasciitis is rampant. In fact, I'm starting to think practitioners just diagnose this to describe any pain on the bottom of the foot. While true plantar fasciitis is complicated and a little more than we can cover in one blog post stretch, strengthening the lower legs with this movement can help affect heel pain.

A few years ago, I had a nasty case of plantar fasciitis myself. In future posts, I'll explore how I alleviated it, but for now, I'll show you one of the easiest stretches to help any non-specific heel pain. You'll need an exercise band; there's really no substitute for it here. I like doing it at the end of the day while laying in bed, but you could do it seated at your desk, or even as part of your daily workouts.

Anatomy Lesson:

The two major muscles in the calf group are the "soleus" and "gastrocnemius." These attach from about the knee to the heel bone ("calcaneus") and it's this heel attachment that's critical: If the calf muscles are chronically overused, they're going to pull on the calcaneus, essentially yanking the foot toward the heel. Over time, this will irritate the connective tissue ("fascia") that holds the foot together. "Fasciitis" is simply an inflammation of this connective tissue. Managing fasciitis is therefore about reducing physical inflammation AND reducing the factors that contributed to the inflammation in the first place. Calf group tension is usually first on that list.

This movement is useful to strengthen the calf muscle group, and it's that strength built over time that will eventually help stop the heel from pulling and irritating the fascia.

The Movement

(This is kind of a half-stretch-half-strengthening exercise, so I'm calling it a "movement" because it fits in to neither category neatly.)

Barefoot, either lying down or sitting, hook the band around the ball of your foot. It should fit nicely in to the crook of your arch. Hold the other end with your hands. (The band should be long enough that you don't feel like you're going to snap it with this length.)

Bend your arms up, gently pulling the band to make your toes move up to about a 45 degree angle to your lower leg. Lower, SLOWLY, but don't intentionally point your toes, just let your foot go back to it's natural position. Repeat 5 times, as slowly as you can handle, pointing the toes and puling them back. The slow movement is key here; it you move too quickly, you're just using momentum to move the muscles. Slowly moving forward as well as backward, means you're using the muscles both concentrically and eccentrically, which is just a fancy way to say you're using them more efficiently and effectively.

When my foot was at it's worst, I'd spend about 10 minutes at the end of each day with this movement. Try to distract yourself by watching TV while you're doing it! If you notice any pain or burning in the heel, back off a bit. That usually indicates that the fascia is still irritated, and there's little point in irritating it further. Try doing the movement only once or twice instead of for a few minutes. Remember that training our muscles takes time. If it took you months, years, or even a lifetime to develop the patterns involved in plantar fasciitis, so you're not going to fix them in a week!

Massage therapy is an incredibly effective adjunct to treatment for plantar fasciitis. I've helped myself and many others through it! I'll see you in my Westport office!

The Kettlebell Halo

Stretch and strengthen your entire upper body!

By now, you guys know that I'm pretty obsessed with strength training. Although I do have a weight bench and barbells, my favorite tools for resistance training are actually kettlebells. Since you're often standing and moving them in different positions, they challenge more muscle groups than machines or simple barbells do.

The "Halo"is one of my favorite upper body strengtheners, because it engages most of the muscles in the upper body. It challenges your coordination and core balance, and that unintentional gentle wobbling might even help you realize how your posture could be improved.

Anatomy Lesson:

Technically, the halo works both the bicep and tricep muscles, as you hold the weight in front of yourself and rotate it behind yourself. But it's actually not the best way to train these muscles. In my opinion, the best use of the halo is for scauplar (shoulderblade) mobility.

In our everyday lives, we tend to mostly keep our arms in front of ourselves. While this isn't inherently bad, it means that the backs of our arms rotate our shoulderblades forward. Because of this tendency, it's important to rotate them back; this not only creates strength in the muscles themselves, but improves posture over time. And it feels great!

The muscles impacted by this movement include the rhomboids, trapezius (traps), deltoids, pectoralis group, biceps and triceps. It's the use of the rhomboids and traps that really impress me; these muscles usually don't get moved in such a complete way. When I perform this exercise, I imagine my shoulderblades rotating completely in a circle, and I LOVE the way that feels!

The Kettlebell Halo:

Start holding your kettlebell (or you can substitute a dumbbell) out in front of yourself, at about the level of your collarbone. Hold it far enough away that you won't hit yourself with it. Maintain the same angle bend in your elbows as you rotate your arms to your left, bringing the weight around your head, as if you were drawing a "halo". The motion should be fluid but not extremely quick; you should feel like you're in control of the weight the entire time. Don't pause anywhere in the back, just imagine drawing a circle around your head with the weight. Start and stop in the same position in front of your collarbone. You should keep your elbows close to your ears the entire time - if you kick them out, you're not going to engage your upper back muscles as much, and the exercise just becomes about your biceps and triceps. Repeat the halo in the opposite direction, going back and forth, circling around your head.

I'll do 15 reps of the halo in each direction (30 total) with a 15 or 20 pound kettlebell. But you can start at any weight you prefer - remember that having correct form is always more important than the amount of weight lifted. You may even find that 5 pounds are difficult with this movement- there's no shame in just using a small water bottle at first.

You should start to feel some increased range of motion right away, and with enough practice, you'll likely feel your upper back and shoulderblade muscles strengthen. This is one of my favorite moves if I feel like I'm starting to hunch over too much - it really helps me stand up straighter!

Remember that any training routine is always best complimented with massage therapy. I can help you keep your muscles functioning optimally for your next sweat session or competitive event. I'll see you in my Westport office!

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Diana Remaley, LMT
Diana@RemaleyMassage.com
(203)292-5362
19 Compo Road South
Westport, CT