Slumpy shoulders are a problem for most people. We try to correct them by pulling them onto our back or lifting them and squeezing them together...This works, for about 2 minutes until you have to do it all over again. You can actually break this cycle using VASIE training techniques.
Look & read about each pattern below. Stand in a relaxed manner and have a friend take a picture of you to compare.
Causes: This pattern often happens after a neck injury. It can also be a learned behavior if you grew up with a parent who had this pattern. It can also happen if you grew up under a lot of stress or in a household where it was not OK to be relaxed...
Physical Reason: This pattern is a way your body braces your neck after an injury. Your body will hold tension in these muscles naturally to help you keep the neck from moving too much as it heals. Unfortunately, the pattern can sometimes become part of your posture - even after most of the injury has healed. Unfortunately, this can hurt as much or more than the initial injury over time.
What it feels like from inside: You can’t relax. Your neck hurts! You always need a shoulder massage! When it's really bad - you can’t even think... This pattern can actually make you a chronically tense person who cannot get rid of stress in healthy ways.This pattern can also cause numbness and tingling as well as create tension headaches.
What it looks like: You look tense to yourself (in the mirror) and others. People feel your tension and respond to the tension. It ages the neck because your neck muscles never get a chance to move and detox. It can add to a pale or splotchy complexion by interfering with lymphatics and proper circulation.
Shoulder Tension Intervention: The great thing about this pattern is that it can often (not always) be easy to fix! You will learn VASIE breathing and how to first activate and then tone some muscles on your back. These muscles are probably already strong... They just need to do their job a bit differently and we need to shift the excess tone out of the muscles that lift the shoulder blades and add this tone to the muscles that support them!
Also, because this pattern is typically part of a deeper imbalance in the neck muscles, you will need to learn to turn on some muscles in your neck that you can’t actually even feel. These exercises are already in most of our teaching but will be emphasized even more in the next couple of months.
What Fixing this Feels like: What you should feel like as this pattern gets better: A nicer, more relaxed you. Far fewer physical symptoms. Stress will be tolerated and more easily discharged. You will feel ready to take on more things in life - both fun and meaningful. If your neck injury has not healed completely, you may feel your neck a bit more as this tension pattern is resolved. A more complete neck rehab might be your next step. Worth it?Absolutely…
What it looks like: This is a sneaky pattern because it can look like good posture. Unfortunately, it still doesn’t feel good, interferes with relaxed breathing, and gets worse over time. This is also a very tiring posture because you are using lots of extra muscles AND the wrong type of muscle to stand and walk....
Causes: The cause of shoulder pinching is usually coming from below the shoulders. You will see this pattern often in older people who have back issues. However, it can happen at any age. The real problem here can be lack of extension in mid back or a posterior pelvis. Paul saw this pattern when working with the safety teams up on the North Slope in the guys with bad backs.
What it feels like: You will feel tension between your shoulder blade and into your mid-back and often all the way down your spine. Your low back may already have been hurting for quite a while as this is often the root cause of this problem. When you relax your chest and shoulders completely you will feel like you fall into a complete slump. It feel like you always need to press your chest up and out.
Physical Reason: This pattern can be learned and then reinforced by someone who is very posture conscious. When you see this pattern you may be looking at someone who is very strong willed. When it becomes severe you will see the elbows come far behind the center line of the body. This will happen reflexively so that the person can simply stand up “straight”. If they didnt pull their elbows way back and pinch their shoulder blades they would be stuck in a complete slump.
Shoulder Tension Intervention: By learning VASIE breathing and activating the deep stabilizing muscles of the trunk, your feet and the muscles that pull your shoulders down the back you will feel a lot more energy if you fix this pattern. You will also feel more centered and grounded. Your whole spine will become more relaxed and your breathing, sleep, and recovery will be much easier. You will be able to generate a lot more power and strength in you lower body and legs.
What it looks like: This pattern looks like your shoulders are slumpy and rounded forward.
What it feels like: It feels like you have to constantly lift your shoulders up and then pull them together and onto your back. It also feels like frustration because this trick only lasts three minutes before you have to adjust your shoulders all over again. This pattern creates a heaviness in the upper body and chest and creates tension in the lower neck. It will feel like chronic tension and may accompany a bit of a hump on the upper back. As this pattern gets worse over time, shoulder tension will increase, you will get even more head forward, and headaches may increase.
Causes: This pattern is common: It can be caused by a wide variety of factors. you can have a genetically more curved spine in your upper back, or have lung issues, or have copied a parents posture with this pattern. Your upper chest and collar bones are probably more down the front of the body than they should be. The shoulder pattern either created this pattern or followed it.
Unsolicited advice: if you have this pattern don’t wear a raglan sweater. It will accentuate it.
Physical Reason for this pattern: This pattern is often based around being head forward from a neck injury. This can often create a collapse in the upper rib cage that takes the shoulders down the front with it. It can also be caused by respiratory issues or patterns or emotional depression. A person with this pattern may be what Rolfers call exhalation fixed. If you have this you will prefer to be exhaled rather than hold your breath... Check it out for yourself. Take a deep inhale and hold it. Then, take a deep exhale and hold that for 5 seconds. Which feels more comfortable. If this is you - exhale fixed may be your pattern...
Shoulder tension intervention: When you develop the support in the feet, pelvis and low back it will be easier to undo the rounded shoulders. You will feel like your shoulders are finally in the right place! When you relax completely they won’t drag your upper body forward and down. Your shoulders will feel like they sit nice and easy on your back. Correcting this pattern will stop your shoulders from pulling your head and upper back forward. You will need fewer neck rubs (although we suggest that you take them when offered). Headaches and mild nerve symptoms in arms and shoulders can be reduced or eliminated.
Is a posterior pelvis the cause of my shoulder and neck pain? A posterior pelvis creates whole body postural problems that can cascade up and down your skeletal system and muscle chains.
Physical Problems Include:
This may be the first time you’ve heard about your pelvis being the cause of your shoulder issues. For Rolfers and for VASIE practitioners these are part of our checklist. One of the greatest things about Structural Integration is that it is an excellent system! You have probably heard that Rolfing is done in a Series - typically a series of 10 -12 sessions that work to integrate all the parts of the body so that they work well together.
Structural Integration not only works to address symptoms, it also addresses root causes that seem unrelated to the symptoms. When you first start learning the system of Rolfing it seems like you are getting miracle cures. Over time the relationships start to become clear.
You may be asking
Why has literally nothing worked yet to fix my neck and shoulders? Why can’t anyone tell me what’s really causing the problem? I was in that situation 20 years ago. One of the issues is that physical medicine is complex. One of the others is that our medical system is designed to address symptom more than the cause...
Back to the problem at hand. I am still reading this article (thank you) and my shoulders and neck are still hurting... If nothing has worked so far here are a couple of tests that might help you.
The Anterior/Posterior Test
This test is easy to perform and is a good indicator of your pelvic tilt. If your answer is tucking your pelvis under is more comfortable, then it is likely you have a posterior pelvis.
There are two steps:
1 - Tilt your pelvis posterior. This is the same as tilting your tailbone down the back or tucking your butt under.
2 - Tilt your pelvis anterior. this is the same as tilting your butt up to give you a big curve in your low back
Which is more comfortable (or least uncomfortable?)?
If your answer is tucking your pelvis under then it is likely you have a posterior pelvis. This pattern gives you a higher chance of having postural stress on the neck and shoulders. To see if this is actually the case you may want to try putting a lumbar pad in your chair at work. See if this helps. If so, you will definitely want to address the muscle imbalances through specific exercise.
If your answer is that increasing the curve in your low back is more comfortable. You probably have an anterior pelvis. This shoulder pattern actually gives you more support for your neck and shoulders. What this indicates is that the problem is either directly involved with imbalances or injuries in the neck and shoulders - or at least from the spine above the lumbar vertebrae.
I’m Posterior - Now What:
If you have a posterior pelvis and unresolved shoulder and neck problems you should to start doing VASIE workouts. These workouts are designed to begin re-integrating your body through breath and movement.
If the pattern is very strong you might want to start a Rolfing Ten Series. We are confident that you will feel results. All of our Private training and Rolfing(r) packages come with a money back guarantee. The reason we can offer this is virtually everyone is very happy with their results.
Knowing what’s going on is 1/2 the battle. Unfortunately, simply “standing up straight won't give you a permanent fix or the ease, relaxation, and confidence of naturally effortless posture.
We will be posting helpful hints and exercises over the next few weeks. However, if you really want or need to get serious we suggest:
Everybody knows that they have “bad posture” and that they have to “stand up straight”. However, for most people with shoulder and neck pain that is caused or exacerbated by poor posture, this typically will not work.
What is naturally good posture? This is the effortless good posture that requires little if any thought. It looks and feels easy, light, and graceful. It IS NOT a (forced?) HABIT that you use to beat yourself to death...However, for most people with shoulder and neck pain that is caused or exacerbated by poor posture, this typically will not work.
If you have poor posture and you need a permanent fix for that posture it can take some time and energy but the journey is worth it. Simply “standing up straight” won’t give you the sense of control, confidence, grounding and relaxation that comes with naturally good posture.
What is naturally good posture - this is the effortless good posture that requires little if any thought. It looks and feels easy, light, and graceful. It IS NOT a HABIT that you use to Beat yourself to death...
To fix posture using exercise we use VASIE pilates which uses 2 distinctly different workouts to create a postural and conditioning fix:
DCT: Deep Core Toning.The most precise and valuable core workout developed. Goal: strong, stable joints, strong core, reduce, and eliminate pain.
You will start with slow, precise, movements that are timed to your inhales and exhales. This is a lot like what you will see with a good dancer doing their warm-ups at the barre. Very slowly, precisely, and with a lot of focus and intention. This program safely creates the conditions for alignment and strength in the joints.
If you are athletic you and have little pain you will do this as infrequently as twice a month. People who have had a lot of injuries will often do these workouts almost daily, in addition to their other routines, to condition the postural muscles that help them to stay out of pain.
Strength & Flexibility Workouts: After a few DCT classes, most people are ready to take the body to a bit more range of motion and work things a bit harder. ISF classes are actually a different type of VASIE workout. While you get to workout harder, you can also let loose a bit more, the precision drops a bit and the work gets more fun.
Strength & Flexibility workouts depend on you having excellent stability and solid DCT skills. However, since the classes are different, you can take both at the same time and learn the different skills as you progress.