How the Right Workout Can Relieve Neck and Shoulder Pain For Good [A Massage Therapist’s Guide]
I just did a 7 minute HIIT workout. Now I’m feeling energized and so proud of myself for completing it.
I did jumping jacks, wall sits, pushups, crunches, stair climbers, squats, tricep dips, planks, high knees and lunges; a pretty standard full body combination of arms, legs and abs.
But I know from seeing massage therapy clients over the course of 4 years, almost none of them asked me to skip over their back, neck and shoulders.
So why didn’t my workout include anything that specifically targeted strengthening these areas?
The truth is that these basic, full body workouts aren't designed for improving posture, nor for resolving pain and discomfort. HIIT is one of the biggest workout trends right now and it’s geared towards people looking to accelerate weight loss. No doubt, HIIT is a great exercise method if shedding fat is your goal, but these types of workouts could be contributing to back, neck and shoulder strain.
If you want your workout to improve not just your overall health, but also to reduce or even solve your daily pain and discomfort, you need to get to the core of these issues and incorporate some physical therapy elements into your routine.
See a professional to rule out the presence of something more serious, but if you’re certain that your shoulders hurt because of bad posture and sitting at the computer all day, learning a bit of anatomy and applying that knowledge to your workout will empower you. It will allow you to take control of pain and discomfort.
What Not To Do
Let me break down one of the most common exercises that, when done by itself, makes me nervous.
Here’s the scenario. You’re getting back into shape. You want to feel stronger. You want to tone your arms. You see that there’s a popular online challenge and you think, hey, maybe I’ll sign up.
It’s a no-brainer. You get down on all fours to prep for a timeless exercise that you picked up in your childhood PE days.
Feeling the burn, you go hard until your body becomes jello. When you can’t do anymore, you wrap up your workout. No stretches to release the muscles you flexed. No exercises to balance your strength-building. Frankly, no real sense of what muscles are involved in doing this pushup.
Pushups are primarily used to strengthen your triceps (on the backside of your upper arms) and, what I want to focus on here, your pecs (two muscles of your chest). As you push your body up into a plank position, your pec muscles contract, shorten and your shoulders push forward to lift you up.
So What’s the Problem?
Most people already have super shortened chest muscles. Often, these shortened muscles are precisely the reason why people are having pain and discomfort in their upper back and shoulders.
With pushups, tension is built in the muscles that pull your shoulders forward, which means that the muscles that pull your shoulders back have to stretch to accommodate that position.
When you frequently don’t do anything to counteract that forward shoulder position, your body starts to maintain that position which puts a ton of strain on the overstretched back and shoulder muscles, especially between the shoulder blades. Holding a stretch may feel good for a few moments, but imagine staying in one indefinitely. Ouch.
You know what else tends to do that?
Typing at a computer with poor posture.
People tend to spend much of their day with their shoulders forward. While pushups may not be the primary cause for this strained position, it can exacerbate the issue.
The Bigger Picture
The pushup is not the only exercise that requires further attention and knowledge. There are tons of exercises we can break down to show how uninformed, unbalanced exercises can lead to pain and discomfort.
The bigger picture here is that if you understand how your muscles work in unison, you’ll know how to strategically choose exercises and what else to do in conjunction with them to make them truly beneficial.
Sneak preview: In this case, I always suggest doing lots of chest opening stretches after pushups and throughout the day, plus strengthening exercises for those upper back muscles. But don’t worry, I’ll explain this in more detail later in the series.
Stay tuned as I reveal a super simple system for learning the mechanics of body movement which will help you apply that knowledge and create the best workout plan for you.
Now, I’d love to hear from you.
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