Back Pain, Breast Health, Lymph, Neck & Shoulders, Pictures of Exercises, Spinal Health

10 Minutes to Tension & Pain Free Shoulders

You are going to love this! These are some of my favorite exercises for relieving shoulder and upper back tension that accumulates during the day. We do so many things with our arms: computer work, driving, studying, carrying babies, breastfeeding, yard work…. add misalignment, old injuries, weak muscles and stress to the mix and you have a recipe for serious discomfort.  If you experience shoulder & upper back pain and/or tension, you will love this routine. It only takes 10 minutes and you’ll feel great! (See additional resources at the bottom of this post as well.)

Minute 1: Rhomboid Push Up

The rhomboids are muscles on your upper back that connect the spine Muscles_rhomboïdesand the scapula (shoulder blades). When you have the habit of retracting your scapula (retraction=pulling the shoulders back like you are squeezing something between the shoulder blades) these muscles get tight and weak. I know that this position is often taught as “good posture”, but it is not good alignment. (Read about posture vs. alignment.)  When you retract your scapula it looks good, but holding this position habitually is sabotaging your shoulder girdle and spinal health. These muscles help hold the spine upright, and when they are tight and weak, they can’t do their job, resulting in hyperkyphosis.

To restore the length of these muscles, try this. Start on your hands and knees. Roll the elbows in towards eachother so that the elbow points back towards your thighs and the elbow “pit” faces the same direction as your middle finger (see picture). Keep a slight bend in the elbow to keep from hyper extending.

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Let the chest drop towards the floor and feel the scapula come together (retraction) WITHOUT BENDING YOUR ELBOWS ANYMORE THAN THEY ALREADY ARE. Then press the hands into the floor and push the shoulders blades wide (protraction). Keep the pelvis untucked.  This is a VERY difficult motion to learn, so it may take some time to master.  WATCH THIS VIDEO of my friend Susan demonstrating the rhomboid push up.

Minute 2: Floor Angels

First bolster you head and shoulders with some pillows or folded blankets. To stretch the chest and shoulders, move the arms slowly overhead like you are making a snow angel.  Rotate the arms so that your palms face up towards the ceiling and your thumbs are closer to the floor than the pinkies.  The hand will start out touching the floor, but will lift away from the floor as you move the arm overhead.

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Keep the ribs relaxed down. Try not to let them pop up towards the ceiling like this:

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Minutes 3-5: Tennis Ball “Reverse” Rhomboid Push Up

I got this AWESOME move from Jill Miller of Yoga Tune Up. Take two tennis balls or balls of similar size & density (I’m using yoga tune up balls here) and put them in a sock. Tie a knot in the sock to keep the balls in place. Lay on your back with the balls underneath your upper back, one on either side of the spine. Start at the top of your scapula.

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Reach your arms up to the ceiling feeling the scapula spread wide, them relax and let them fall towards the floor. It’s the same motion as the rhomboid push up, just upside down. Do this for 1 minute, moving slowly. Then roll the balls down an inch or two, and repeat this motion for 1 minute. Repeat this process one more time. (We are doing 3 different positions here, but you can always do more.)

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If you want more pressure, you can experiment with pressing your feet into the floor to  lift your pelvis up into a small bridge.

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Minutes 6-8: Tennis Ball Floor Angels

Move the balls back up to the first spot they were in (on either side of the spine near the top of the scapula). Repeat the same “snow angel” motion with your arms that you did in the Floor Angels for 1 minute. Roll the balls down an inch or two and repeat 1 minute. Roll the balls down again and repeat.

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If you love this stuff as much as I do, you will want to check out Jill Miller’s new book The Roll Model. My husband gave it to me for Christmas this year, and I’m slowly working my way through it. She shows you how to roll away tension from head to toe. SO GOOD!

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Minute 9: Rhomboid Push Up

Repeat slowly for 1 minute.

Minute 10: Floor Angels

 Repeat slowly for 1 minute.


 

Want more for your shoulders?

1.) Read 3 things you need to know about your shoulder tension.

2.) Drop in for Upper Body Stretch & Strengthen class at Blooma Nashville.

3.) Try an Alignment Snack (20 min online classes). For upper body I love these: Everybody Needs a Little Shoulder Bolster, Rhomboid Madness, Can’t Get Enough of Shoulders & A Real Pain in the Neck.

Breast Health, Health, Lymph, Neck & Shoulders, Pelvic Health, Pictures of Exercises

Stay Healthy This Cold & Flu Season, Move Your Lymph.

It’s that time of year when everyone is getting colds, flus, chest infections…. You know all the regular recommendations: wash your hands, take Vitamin C, get plenty of rest, take On Guard (I think I’m a little behind the trend on this one– I JUST discovered how amazing this essential oil blend is. Seriously, it changed my life.) or immune boosting herbs.

I’m going to give you a new one today: Move Your Lymph

If you are thinking, “move my what?”, keep reading. How do we move our lymph? Before we get to that, we need to talk about what lymph is and what it does…but before we get to that, let’s start with the blood.  Everyone knows that the heart pumps the blood, circulating it around the body.  What many people don’t realize, is that the muscles are designed to help move the blood along as they contract and relax. While the heart is the main pump, muscle activity helps draw the blood to the smaller capillaries that feed the cells and pickup the cellular waste.  The large veins and arteries are like the main lines in an irrigation system that would water a large garden, and the capillaries are much smaller lines watering specific areas on the outskirts. When muscles are tight, they are not very active, and the blood flow to that part of the body is relatively low.  When this happens, the blood flow may be lower than optimal (or not reaching ALL the cells adequately), but at least it’s still flowing because the heart it pumping.

Now we are ready to talk about lymph.  (Keep in mind this is a simplified explanation of a very complex physiological process.)  The lymphatic system is your body’s garbage clean up system, and it circulates a fluid called lymph. All the cellular waste, toxins, and other “garbage” gets picked up in the lymph, which travels through vessels (similar to blood vessels), passing through lymph nodes to get filtered. Lymph doesn’t have a pump, so it relies on outside forces to move it…muscles, gravity, massage, etc.

When muscles are tight and bodies are inactive, lymph gets stagnant. The lymphatic system is directly related to the immune system, and when it’s not functioning as it should, immune function is compromised.  We often forget that there are mechanical components to disease & illness, and this is one of them.

Here’s a picture of the lymphatic vessels, lymph nodes, and organs associated with the system.  The areas with more green clusters are the areas with higher concentration of lymph nodes (pelvis, groin, armpit, & neck).

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Back to the original question: How do we move our lymph?

1) Stretch tight muscles in regions of high lymph node concentration– chest/shoulders, groin/hips & neck. If you’re like me, these areas with a lot of lymph nodes also happen to have a lot of tension.  When muscles are tight, they are relatively inactive and don’t circulate lymph (or blood) very well. Here are a couple of my favorite stretches for theses regions.

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1/2 WINDMILL: Lay on your right side, bolster the head as needed. Drop your left arm toward the wall behind you. Rotate the arm so the thumb points towards the ground (pinky towards the ceiling). Keep a slight bend in the elbow. Slowly move the arm down towards the hip, then back up over head, pausing when you feel tight spots in the chest & shoulder.  Perform at least 1 min. Repeat on the other side.

 

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NECK STRETCH: Sit on your sitz bones, relax your ribs down. Reach your left arm away from you keeping a slight bend in the elbow. Rotate the arm externally (like you have a bowl of soup in your hand and are pouring it out behind you). Tuck the chin to lengthen the back of the neck & let the right ear drop toward the left shoulder. Hold at least 1 min. Repeat on the other side.
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LEGS UP THE WALL: Lay down with your hips a few inches away from the wall and legs straight up the wall. You should have a small space under your low back. If your low back presses into the floor, scoot away from the wall, and use a rolled up towel or your mat (pictured) to help your pelvis untuck. Use a prop under your head to help the ribs relax down. Let the legs drop open to stretch the adductors (inner thighs). Work up to 1 min.
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NOTE: Another benefit of this position is that gravity will pull any lymph that may have accumulated in the feet & lower legs (read: swelling) back “up” to be circulated. It is also a position that encourages dogs and small children to climb on you.

2) Move more, starting with a daily walk. Regular, full body movement is necessary for moving blood & lymph (and for health in general). Walking is the preferred full body movement for many reasons, but that is another post for another day. (I do NOT recommend walking on a treadmill. It’s not the same.)  The rhythmic movement of arms and legs helps pump both blood and lymph around the body, feeding cells & removing waste.

You also may have noticed that the areas of high lymph node concentration happen to be near major joints. These are joints that would get a lot of movement IF we were moving naturally instead of sitting all day.  When I say “moving naturally” I am referring to the way humans moved before we had modern conveniences like cars, grocery stores, high heels, chairs, strollers, toilets….not bad things, but things that require us to move WAY less than before. Walking, hunting/gathering food, kneeling, climbing, carrying kids, squatting….can you see how just “doing life” would facilitate the movement of lymph (and blood) throughout the day? If this concept resonates with you, I’d recommend Katy Bowman’s new book Move Your DNA.

(SIDE NOTE: High intensity exercise is not necessary to move lymph, and it can actually weaken your immune system.)

3) When you walk, swing your arms. You have a built in reflex for arm swing. Without thinking about it, your opposite arm and leg will move together. It’s called reciprocal arm swing. When you are carrying a baby or a purse, that arm tends to not swing, so try alternating sides (or finding an alternative that allows arm swing, like a sling or messenger bag). For optimal muscle use and lymph movement, keep your elbow pointing back behind you and the elbow “pit” pointing straight ahead as your arms swing. Then keep the arms straight (not bent like a race walker), and push them back behind you. More on this here. Yes, you’ll get more toned arms (say good-bye to that flap on the back of your arm), but more importantly, it is essential for breast health!

Now, take a computer break, and go move that lymph!

 

PS- If you want more, here a few 20-30 minute classes that target these areas. Click HERE, then choose one of the following titles:

A Real Pain in the Neck, Rhomboid Madness, Adductor Madness, Take a Load off Your Chest & Hips, Frankie Says: Relax the Psoas