Stretching Series: Suboccipitals


The Suboccipital muscle group is one of great importance.  When these are hypertonic it is usually because of postural reasons. They are usually not just tight but in a  chronically shortened state which locks down the upper cervical region. They are very much connected to chronic headaches and migraines. Also, when shortened down, they will limit the amount of cervical rotation which is possible. Continue reading “Stretching Series: Suboccipitals”

Stretching Series: Pectoralis Minor

Figure 1                                                                                Pectoralis Minor- Photo Credit Anatomography


Figure 2
Pectoralis Minor is probably one the hardest muscles in the body to stretch. It is commonly done in an exact manner as pectoralis major which, in my opinion, can be improved upon. Because of its attachments, it does not have the ability to move through a large range of motion which, of course, limits how we can move it to stretch it. The main issue with singling out pectoralis minor is that pectoralis major usually comes to tension before we can stretch minor, or shoulder mobility does not allow for enough movement. So, in order to reach pectoralis minor, we will need to take these factors out of the equation. Instead of focusing on glenohumeral movement, we are going to focus more on scapular motion (retraction) to gain the lengthening we require.
Now some of you may ask why we are not going to incorporate more elevation of the scapula since the pectoralis minor depresses the shoulder. I answer this by saying that elevation, at least the way we need it, is almost impossible to accomplish when stretching on your own (someone assisting you is a different story). Also, we can accomplish more lengthening and single out pectoralis minor much more effectively with shoulder retraction in this circumstance. If you look back and look at Figure 1, I want you to imagine a simple pulley system on top of the shoulder. Pectoralis minor is a rope on the front side of the pulley and the scapula is the back side of the system. By depressing the scapula while at the same time retracting it, we are, in essence, “hoisting” the insertion of pectoralis minor up and drawing it away from its origin in the ribs.

Although Pectoralis Minor does not have an attachment on the humerus (unlike Pectoralis Major), we will use it to affect how we want the scapula to move.  We will also use the ribs where the Pectoralis Minor originates to help lengthen the muscle from the other direction.

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Stretching Series: Distal Calf

Flexors of the Ankle

Flexibility of the distal calf muscles is an important thing to develop and maintain. Having flexibility here allows for the ankle and foot to move (dorsiflex) correctly which is very important for overall structural health for the entire body.  By learning how to stretch the muscles in this region we can enable that ability.

The major muscles that we are dealing with are the ones responsible for flexion of the ankle and toes.  These muscles are Flexor Digitorum Longus, Flexor Hallucis Longus, Tibialis Posterior,  and Soleus. You may wonder about the gastrocnemius which I have left out on purpose.  Yes, it does flex the ankle. However, unlike the rest of the muscles listed, it has the unique anatomy of crossing the knee joint and the ankle joint (Yeah so does plantaris but who cares). This means that when the knee is straightened gastrocnemius is under tension, and limits the amount of dorsiflexion which can occur at the ankle. In other words, we will never be able to get enough dorsiflexion in the ankle joint to stretch the rest of the important muscles if we don’t eliminate gastrocnemius tension from our equation. This can be done by simply bending the knee when stretching the distal calf. This will take away any gastrocnemius tension which could limit the ability of the ankle to dorsiflex and increase our distal calf lengthening.

The Stretch

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  • Place your foot on the edge of a chair or bench with pressure placed on the forefoot.
  • Stretch the distal calf by allowing your heal to drop toward the floor as you lean your body forward.
  • To deepen the stretch, rest your elbow on your knee in order to use your body weight to force the heal downward.

  • Hold the stretch for 15-30 seconds in order to allow for maximum release.

Note: A Post Isometric Relaxation(PIR) is certainly a great tool in this circumstance to encourage more lengthening. Because of the chronic lack of ankle dorsiflexion in most people, multiple repetitions of a PIR will help break through some of the fascial barriers and help gain greater lengthening.

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Stretching Series: Teres Major and Minor with Tricep Brachii

Posterior Shoulder
In certain areas of the body, muscles function in such close proximity to each other that they can become stuck to one another. This of course does not allow those muscles to love and stretch in the way they are intended. This can be very limiting when it comes to range of motion. This is especially true in the shoulder, and, specifically, with the teres muscles, triceps brachii and latissimus dorsi. Stretching these four muscles with this theory in mind can allow for better increases in  mobility when only stretching independently is unsuccessful.

The Stretch

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Teres Minor and Major

  • Begin by standing about two feet away from the wall at a 90-degree angle.
  • Extend shoulder over the head and place elbow on the wall.

    Figure 1
  • Lean toward wall allowing the elbow to move toward your head. The stretch will we felt on the underside portion of the shoulder more laterally and posterior.

Adding Triceps Brachii and Latissimus Dorsi

Once the teres major and minor are stretched, we can add triceps brachii and latissimus dorsi to make a combination stretch. This is important in this specific area because the different muscles that are in very close proximity to each other. These muscles need to be able to function in their own range of motions without being restricted by other muscles.  We want to be able to create differentiation between these muscles so they can love and glide independently of each other. We can do this by using the force of the stretch.

  • Maintain our lengthened and stretched position of teres major and minor (in step 3 of teres stretch),  so this position will be our anchoring point.
  • Keeping the shoulder in place, bend the elbow slowly and bring your hand behind your head. The stretch should be felt in the back of the arm through the triceps brachii and also intensify the stretch of teres major and minor.

    Figure 2
  • To maximize the stretch and increase lengthening of all four muscles including latissimus dorsi, lean your torso closer to the wall and slightly laterally flex away.

    Figure 3

    Note: Adding the triceps brachii and latissimus dorsi lengthening will only intensify the stretch if you do not have good movement between these structures. If your mobility is already good, only a minor pull will be felt in the triceps itself.

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Stretching Series: Pectoralis Major

Pectoralis Major
This muscle is very popular to stretch and for good reason. It is a main contributor to upper cross syndrome and anterior shoulder posture. It can also be a major player in shoulder impingement. Obviously, a good one to know how to stretch! The key with the muscle is making sure we are stretching ALL the different fiber directions due to the broad attachments into the ribs. we can easily miss fully lengthening this muscle simply by not stretching at the right angle.  

If discomfort is felt in the shoulder joint while stretching, or if instability is a concern, practice stabilizing the scapula while stretching by activating your lower trapezius and rhomboid. This should help with discomfort as well as allow for correct stretching form. 

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Stretching Series: Latissimus Dorsi


Latissimus Dorsi Photo Credit Wikipedia Commons
Stretching the Latissimus Dorsi is important to include in any stretching regimen. Not only does it allow for increased shoulder flexion and mobility, but it can also be important with gaining mobility in the thoracic spine, mainly extension. We are going to use the ability of the shoulder to move the insertion of this muscle to do our main lengthening. In order to maximize our stretch, we will use the thoracic and lumbar spine to move the origin. In other words, we will tension the muscle from both directions.

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