By Peggy Protz, Feldenkrais® Practitioner
Neck pain really can be a pain in the neck. Especially if the pain affects your ability to move easily and comfortably. Ask anyone who has experienced a whiplash, a pinched nerve, or a bad tension headache. Pain caused by these conditions will often restrict the natural, free movement of the head, creating an experience of life that is limiting. A real pain in the neck!
The pain can easily spiral downward into more discomfort. As you try to keep your head still to avoid pain, muscles in the neck, shoulders, and upper back begin to tighten up. This is understandable, as your body intelligently wants to protect you from further injury. The increased muscle tension, however, can actually cause more discomfort. One way to disrupt this cycle is to begin moving in a gentle way.
Try this experiment… Sit on the edge of a chair that has a firm, flat surface. Have your feet flat on the floor about hip width apart and your thighs parallel to the floor. Rest your hands comfortably on your thighs. Gently turn your head a little to the right and to the left, keeping the movement in a range that is easy and not painful. Observe how far you turn by taking note of what you see in the room around you.
Next, keeping your head in the center, slowly look downward, lowering your chin to your chest. Allow your chest to sink, relax your shoulders, and think that you are bending your whole back backwards, creating a “C” shape from the top of your head to your tailbone. This position may feel like slouching.
Now reverse the movement. Slowly lift your chin off your chest, looking straight ahead as you straighten your back. Push your chest forward and gently pull your shoulders back. Think that the top of your head is being pulled upward toward the ceiling, causing you to sit taller on your seat.
Repeat the motion: lowering your head as you bend your back, lifting your head as you straighten your back. See if you can feel the pressure of your hips rolling back and forth on the chair; leaning back on your tail bone, then forward on your sit bones.
Begin to coordinate your breathing with the movement. Exhale as you look down, relaxing the chest. Inhale as you lift your head, expanding the chest. Allow your whole body to relax into the motion.
After you’ve done the exercise five or six times, stop and rest with your eyes closed, noticing the feeling in your shoulders, back, and neck. Open your eyes and turn your head again, like you did at the start. See if it feels easier or if you can turn a little further. Notice if you see more of the room around you.
This is an exercise I often share with my students and is something you can do anytime to relieve tension. The back and forth movement or your spine sort of “resets” your nervous system, allowing your body to relax and learn a new way moving, without you having to think about it. With gentle practice, the better way becomes the natural way, and perhaps that pain in the neck won’t have to be such a pain in the neck!
For more guidance on how to reduce neck and shoulder pain, join Peggy for the “Pain Free Neck and Shoulders” Feldenkrais workshop, Saturday February 7, 2 – 4:30pm in the Mind Body Studio
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This workout is designed to work your shoulder/back area with emphasis on muscle endurance. It’s a tough workout to perform without breaks; you should be challenging yourself to keep going with little to no rest. You will test every aspect of shoulder strength as well as your ability to maintain core stability. If you are looking to increase prolonged upper body strength (for climbing, swimming, rowing, pull ups etc.) this is the workout for you!
With two 10-15lb dumbbells perform each of the following exercises one time each for a total of the specified rounds:
- 1 shoulder press right arm
- 1 shoulder press left arm
- 1 shoulder press both arms together
- 1 upright row right arm
- 1 upright row left arm
- 1 upright row both arms together
- 1 bent over rev. fly right arm
- 1 bent over rev. fly left arm
- 1 bent over rev. fly both arms
Repeat each round for a total of 6 times; then complete 10 ball slams, and Rest.
Repeat each round for a total of 5 times; then complete 10 ball slams, and Rest.
Repeat each round for a total of 4 times; then complete 10 ball slams, and Rest.
Repeat each round for a total of 3 times; then complete 10 ball slams, and Rest.
Repeat each round for a total of 2 times; then complete 10 ball slams, and Rest.
Repeat each round for a total of 1 time; then complete 10 ball slams, and DONE.
If you are interested in learning more about smart, efficient, and effective programming please contact Adriana Brown.
Fitness Advice, Strength Training, Workouts
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As discussed in Part 1 the shoulder complex is designed to allow both force generation and force transmission from the legs, hips and trunk. It can only perform these vital functions if adequate mobility and stability are maintained. To quickly evaluate the mobility throughout your shoulder complex, simply try to touch your hands behind your back with one elbow pointing up and the other elbow pointing down. Can you get anywhere close to touching? Do you notice a difference between the two sides? This motion requires full range of motion in the gleno-humeral joints, the scapulas and the thoracic spine and failing to touch or nearly touch the hands behind your back can indicate immobility at one or several of these joints. Re-gaining adequate mobility requires much more than static stretching because the underlying issue may not be the structural length of the tissues but rather the coordination between the brain, spinal reflexes, muscles and proprioceptors. To account for these variable explanations, a successful mobility routine must incorporate several modalities such as self myofascial release (SMR), proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation stretching (PNF) and dynamic stretching. SMR includes massage-like activities such as foam rolling and increases mobility by relaxing fascia, the connective tissue that surrounds muscle bellies. PNF is a general type of stretching that involves a pattern of contraction and relaxation, for example stretching a muscle, contracting that muscle against a force and then relaxing to stretch the muscle more. Performing PNF at the beginning of an exercise session provides dramatic transient improvement in range of motion which allows improved mobility for the remainder of the session. Dynamic stretching includes anything that gives the shoulder an opportunity to explore a maximally large range of motion (ROM) at variable speeds and provides practice at incorporating the shoulder into whole body movements.
After acceptable mobility has been established, the ability to maintain a position within this ROM must be developed. Stability is not as dependent on strength as much as coordination; your neuromuscular system must work in harmony to quickly react to a perturbation. Training stabilizer muscles, such as the rotator cuff, for strength (with exercises such as rotator cuff rotations) does not train these muscles for stability and can even contribute to a dysfunctional, unstable shoulder complex. Instead stability exercises should challenge the shoulder to maintain position before, during and after a movement. Exercises such as a one arm bench press, reverse rows from a bar and even pushups can be used to evaluate and develop shoulder stability. The key to stability exercises is that they provide a stimulus-rich environment to teach the body what position is stable and how to maintain this position. Whatever exercises are being used, proper feedback is critical to avoid development of faulty motor patterns and ensure stability.
Both mobility and stability depend on the neuromuscular system to function properly. Several methods can be used to increase mobility and stability but it is imperative that any exercises designed to improve these traits provide an opportunity for the body to learn about moving through a complete ROM and maintaining a stable position. Because the neuromuscular system controls these traits, a chronic adaptation can be made within just 2-4 weeks. Adequate mobility and stability provide a safe and efficient platform from which to develop strength and then power. Mobility and stability in the shoulder are key to pain free, efficient movement and improved performance in racquet sports, golf and daily activities. There is no better investment for your shoulder function than to spend 2-4 weeks developing the mobility and stability you need to thrive! To learn more about shoulder and see if your shoulder mobility and stability are adequate, contact Personal Fitness Trainer Hunter Spencer.
Fitness Advice, Sports Conditioning, Squash, Strength Training
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