Stretching Series: Scalenes

Scalene Muscles

The Scalenes are an incredibly important for a multitude of reasons. They are involved in many different issues involving the cervical spine including upper cross syndrome, improper breathing, cervical disc injuries, and nerve entrapments which affect the arms and hands. Obviously, they are important to know how to stretch correctly.

It is important to know two key facts for these muscles. The first is knowing that they insert into the ribs so we can use the movement of the ribs to help increase the stretch. The second is that there are three of these muscles which all track in different angles. So, in order to stretch all of them, we will need to use slight variations throughout our stretch focus on these angles. Continue reading “Stretching Series: Scalenes”

Stretching Series: Suboccipitals

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”

Shoulder Blade Pain…Everyone’s Bane

I can’t tell you the number of times I have seen a client and the first thing they say to me is “can you work on my shoulder blades or wings…or whatever they are called?” I don’t know about you but if I had wings back there I would be pretty excited. Also, I don’t remember being trained in wing massage….hmmm. All kidding aside, the upper thoracic and scapular region do get a lot of attention from massage therapist because it is a source or a great deal of discomfort for many clients. This area affects just about every human it seems (which is a lot of people) especially anyone who tends to spend a lot of time in front of a computer. It is also an area where we tend to gather tension related to stress which adds to the discomfort. Combine all of these factors and it is definitely an area most people are going to want work done on.

I would like to take this common treatment area and open up the reasons why it is such a prominent area of pain. I would also like to delve a bit deeper and see if we can figure out why so many people have, not only soreness here, but many times ongoing acute and chronic pain. What is that  “burning” and “aching” feeling that is described to us therapists so often? Also, why does it always seem to come back even after treating it? Hopefully, I can answer those questions and give you a better knowledge of how to treat what seems to be everyone’s bane. Continue reading “Shoulder Blade Pain…Everyone’s Bane”

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: 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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