Having rounded shoulders and a slumped forward posture is almost like an epidemic in our society today. You see it everywhere. Whether it is the weightlifter at the gym, the person with a computer based desk job, the long distance driver, or the person who is glued to their cell phones and iPads, we find that most people today are hunched over into bad posture. This rounding of the shoulders is often accompanied by pain and stiffness in the upper back and neck.
When we find ourselves constantly in a hunched over position, or if you do a lot of chest exercises at the gym, we begin to tighten our chest muscles and they can become stuck in their shortened position. These chest muscles are your Pectoralis Major and Minor. Often times, people do not realize that their pectoral muscles are too tight. Usually people will complain of pain in their shoulders and upper back (usually in the rhomboid muscles near the scapula), have limited range of movement in the shoulders, or sensations of tingling or numbness down their arms. They assume that the pain is coming from where they feel the pain, but many times it is coming from the opposing muscle group. If one group is pulled short, then the opposite group is then pulled into extension. The over extension is where the pain is being felt.
I hear people get told that to correct this rounded shoulder and slumped over posture, that they need to strengthen their upper back muscles, especially the rhomboids. This sounds great in theory, but in many cases, the problem is coming from overly tight pectorals, rather than weak rhomboids. If Pectoralis Major and Minor are hanging on for dear life, not allowing your shoulders to rotate back, then we need to look at relaxing and lengthening the pectoral muscles first. Once your chest is opened up, then your shoulder blades can move back into place, releasing the tension they have been stretched into, and alleviate the pain felt in the upper back. The same goes for the neck having been pulled forward due to tight pectoral muscles. Releasing the pectorals will help take off the strain of pulling the neck forward, allowing the neck muscles to relax and thus help alleviate some of the neck pain you may have been feeling from constantly hovering over your computer, phone, or steering wheel for hours on end.
Here are some simple ways to help combat the rounded shoulders and tight pectorals:
The best way to combat the dreaded rounded posture is first to be aware of it, then start making the necessary adjustments. Realign yourself whenever you notice that you are rounding your shoulders and hunching over. Check in with yourself frequently. You will be surprised at first to see how often and easily your body gets drawn inward. Work on stretching and opening up your chest throughout the day. Over time, if you are persistent with correcting yourself, you will gradually start to see an improvement in posture, and a decrease in feeling pain in your upper back and neck.
Courtney Truax, LMT is a graduate of East West College of the Healing Arts in Portland, Oregon. She is licensed through the Oregon Board of Massage Therapy and a member of the American Massage Therapy Association. She has her own studio massage practice in the heart of downtown Lake Oswego, Oregon.