Poor body mechanics are a major contributor to neck and shoulder pain. When left unaddressed they can go from a lingering ache to a major life changing event including surgery.
So what does it mean to have good body mechanics anyways?
Good body mechanics is defined as the ability to utilize the correct muscles to complete a task or movement in a safe way without excess strain on any one muscle or joint.
It’s important to note that certain joints are designed to be more stable while others are meant to be more mobile. Problems arise when the joints tasked for stability become mobile and vice versa. Remember that all joints are segmented together through muscular chains and fascial systems. If the muscular attachments of a mobile joint have to work overtime to stabilize motion from a compromised stable joint, this can make the muscles adaptively tight and inflexible. This in turn will compromise the mobility of the primary joint in question. This creates a chain reaction of dysfunction. If left unaddressed this can lead to movement distortion syndromes and accumulative injury cycles.
A very common example of this reflexive shortening and compensatory hypermobility can be found in the shoulders and neck. It’s technically referred to as upper cross or shoulder girdle crossed syndrome. In a nutshell the muscles responsible for keeping the shoulder blade in contact with the ribcage become weakened so that the shoulder blade takes on a forward tilting and protracted position. (weak Rhomboid Muscle) This is typically associated with faulty shoulder mechanics and an inability for the body as a whole to maintain a center of gravity.
The deviation of the normal laying position of the shoulder blade creates faulty joint mechanics for the shoulder itself so that the bone of the upper arm (called the humerus) doesn’t have a smooth gliding path of motion when we lift it up or complete pushing or pulling movements.
This will in turn require the muscles which move the arm like the rotator cuff to become adaptively tight. This further compromises the joint by decreasing the natural space between the joint and the head of the humerus. This leads to impingement, rotator cuff strains and tears, tendonitis, arthritis, bone spurs, etc.
As mentioned when joints meant to be primarily stable become mobile their connecting muscular segments can become overused and impact their length and flexibility. Another common example of this is seen in the muscles which connect the shoulder blades to the neck and skull. One of the big culprits is called the levator scapulae. As the name reveals its primary function is to elevate the shoulder blades and laterally tilt and extend the head and neck.
When the shoulder blades become hypermobile this reinforces the dominance of these muscles which can contribute to forward head posture. This puts excess strain on the neck and can contribute to headaches, dizziness, dowager’s hump, nerve damage, etc.
How does this happen?
Sitting for long periods of time, poor posture, training which focuses on pressing movements or frontside loaded exercises can all lead to these distortions. If you carry your weight in your midsection or as a women if you have greater amounts of breast tissue this can impact your posture and predispose you. Sleeping on your side or using an overstuffed pillow can place you into a fixed posture that can distort the joints as well.
Yes, There is a Solution!
- Increasing the mobility of the levator scapulae.
- Recognize which muscles are responsible for shoulder retraction and depression and strengthen them. These would be the rhomboids and lower trapezius.
- Coordinate your conditioning with functional movement patterns seen in everyday life.
- Avoid overtraining your pectorals and the internal rotators of your arms.
- Adjust your sleeping habits to allow you to sleep on your back.
How to assess?
- Place your back against a wall with your butt, heels and shoulder blades in contact with the wall.
- Try to keep your lower back within a finger’s width from the wall.
- Draw both of your arms up to a “L” position on the wall with your palms facing out.
- Breath in deeply through the nose for a count of 2 and breath out through your mouth for a count of 4.
- As you relax draw your head back to the wall.
– Were you able to get your head back to the wall?
– If you were able to get your head to the wall did your your head tilt back?
– Did your shoulders shrug up?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, you tested positive for this common posture problem and you’ll want to pay attention to what comes next and watch the accompanying video on how to correct it.
Simple Corrective Methods
Correcting Overactive Muscle
Because we move in patterns, our bodies favor the use of certain muscles groups over others. When we overuse our levator scapulae muscles they become tight, short, and inflexible. These are the muscles that we’ll want to lengthen via self myofascial release then follow it with static stretching.
- Rolling or self applied pressure using self myofascial release for 30-60 seconds each
- Stretch or lengthen each for 30-60 seconds each
- Levator scapulae
Correcting Underactive Muscles
As mentioned above, pain in the body is commonly caused when how we move forces certain muscles to work overtime while other muscles become lazy and don’t want to function. We’ll need to wake up these lazy muscles through isolated strength movements. The rhomboids and lower traps are the muscles needing development in this segment.
- 2 sets on each muscle group
- 10-15 reps using a slow opening of the muscle, isolated hold at the bottom of the movement, followed by a controlled shortening of the muscle.
- Rhomboids | 4 point scapulae retraction
- Lower Trapezius | Side lying db delt raise
- Posterior oblique sling | Lung to band row on the opposite side of the body
Now that you know which muscles are typically underactive and overactive, let’s put it all together for you. Watch the video HERE for a step by step breakdown on how to target each of these areas. Before you get started make sure you have a lacrosse ball and exercise band handy.
Start off by applying the techniques three times a week and build from there. Every so often reassess your posture and see how far you’ve progressed. Soon you’ll start to see noticeable changes in your body position and mobility.