Dec 2013 28

Massage & 21st century posture (2)

By: Dave Wheeler

In my first blog post I wrote about our 21st Century lifestyle and the effect that spending our days looking down has on our necks and tops of our shoulders. 

It’s not that we’re just looking down, notice how our arms are always held forward in front of us.

Whether we’re typing at our laptop, reading a book or e-reader, texting, or driving, our arms are held out in front of us.  So much of every day our arms are in front of our bodies.

Take a look at the all the muscles that attach into the shoulder joint:


muscles that attach to the shoulder and get become tight with a shoulder forward position


When our arms are hanging down by our sides, in what’s called the neutral position, the tension in the muscles that pull on the back of the shoulder joint are balanced by the tension of the muscles that pull on the front. In the relaxed neutral position, the shoulder joint is held in place by equal tension front and back and none of the muscles is over-tight.

Now think again about 21st century living – with our arms held in front of us for so much of our day, the muscles which attach to the front of the shoulder (and which are anchored to the ribs in the middle of the chest) are held in a shortened position.  These are shown coloured in pink in the diagram below:


Pectoralis Minor becomes shortened with a shoulder-forward posture causing the rhomboids of the shoulder blade to over stretch and become painful


Instead of being their normal length, these muscles are kept unnaturally shortened and become ‘set’ in that position, so that it quickly becomes natural to hold our shoulders forward. Because this position is now “normal”, it doesn’t feel uncomortable, and there’s no pain at the front of the shoulder.

But if the muscles which pull the shoulder forward feel comfortable with this new 21st Century position, those at the back are being stretched taut like a drum all the time, and they’re often very uncomfortable:


over stretched rhomboids caused by shoulders forward posture with tightened Pectoralis Minor


If you’re shoulders ache at your upper back or lower neck, often it’s because the muscles on the other side of your body are causing the problem.

It’s called the villain and victim principle. Imagine a person who’s being mugged: the mugger keeps quiet (as quiet as possible), whereas the victim screams.

So it is with out bodies – the muscles which pull the shoulder forwards and down towards the chest are the villain, but they’re perfectly happy being set in their new position, so they keep quiet. The muscles which are being abused are those being constantly stretched beyond their ‘normal’ range – and those are the ones screaming from the back of the shoulder.

So if you’ve got a permanent ache on the backs or tops of your shoulders, make sure that as well as getting those muscles treated, your massage therapist treats those muscles at the front which are the villains causing the problem.

If you think I can help, give me a call.