The muscles that support our posture play a constant game of tug-of-war. We live in a forward facing world. Things like walking, holding a steering wheel or book, eating our foods and interacting with others are all taking place in front of us. Even as I type this blog post, my arms are extended in front of my body to reach the keyboard. And with every movement in this fontal plane movement, we develop and further an imbalance between the muscles supporting the front of the neck and chest (the internal rotators) and the muscles between the shoulder blades and back of the neck (the shoulder blade retractors).
This imbalance between the front and back of the body can manifest in a number of ways: as tingling and numbness down the arm, a stress headache at the base of the skull, or tightness across the chest. The muscles located in the front that internally rotate our shoulders forward are the pectoralis major, pectoralis minor, subscapularis and teres major. The muscles that oppose the internal rotators to retract (or draw back and together) the shoulder blades are the rhomboids (major and minor) middle fibers of the trapezius and latissimus dorsi. Because of conditioning resulting from our forward facing world (and years of poor posture), the front muscles can become quite strong. While our shoulders are slumped forward (by our strong front muscles), our shoulder blade retractors are stretched, and are also weakened. The more we sit in an imbalanced posture, the stronger our habits (or motor patterns) become. As our postural imbalance continues, it strains our upper back and neck muscles, and can result in localized pain, headaches or numbness down the arm.
No muscle relaxant or prescribed pain killer will fix this imbalance. The answer, simply, is proper, balanced exercise. A trained Exercise Therapist can help you to notice these patterns or imbalances within yourself and provide the exercises needed to correct proper movement and functioning. We can work to correct our posture by adding in simple exercises and chest stretches daily that are intended to stretch and release the front muscles, while strengthening the back. This can include a doorway stretch for the chest (see photo), and simply squeezing your shoulder blades together, holding for one second and then releasing, repeat 10 times daily to get you started.
Making small changes in your day, such as standing up every 20 minutes to shake off your sitting posture and open up through your chest, will allow you to feel more open and balanced in your body, while your muscles and bones thank you!