Winter Weather Wear Can Strain the Neck!
Originally featured on the Yoga Tune Up® blog, January 29, 2014.
Winter has plowed its way into the Northeast and cold weather wear is out in full force. Heavy scarves around necks, coats with big collars and slouchy beanies hanging off heads are the order of business for frigid days. With all that extra weight at the back of the head and neck, the muscles of the neck are holding on for dear life against the pull of gravity and the dreaded forward head posture.
As the puff and bulk of cold weather wear pushes the head forward, the sternocleidomastoid (SCM) becomes shortened and tight. This ropey muscle of the lateral neck inserts at the mastoid process of the temporal bone, as well as the lateral portion of the superior nuchal line of the occiput. It originates at two separate points – the top of the manubrium for the sternal head and the medial one third of the clavicle for the clavicular head. The SCM cannot do its jobs – rotating the head, laterally flexing the head and bilaterally flexing the neck – when it is stressed in this way, so it must recruit the effort of the typically overtaxed upper fibers of the trapezius, turning the head from the back of the neck and compounding the tension that lives there.
The neck functions best when it works in balance and a counteracting muscle to the SCM is the splenius capitis located at the back of the neck inferior to the trapezius. The muscle shares an attachment with the SCM at the mastoid process and bilaterally extends the neck. When working in concert with the strong balanced action of the SCM, the splenius capitis engagement equalizes the neck and holds the head over the spine, instead of jutting the chin out in front of the body. When working well, this arrangement reminds me of a perfectly balanced teepee, where no single support is overwhelmed, as the poles (or muscles, in this case) share the weight of the structure. But, when out of poise, due to hulking outerwear or technology overload, these muscles become strained, weak, tired and can’t function in the way they are intended to, stressing the neck and upper back.
Follow Up article at:
Includes a neck stretching and strengthening video.
Don’t Let ‘Locked Long’ Rhomboids Drag You Down
Originally featured on the Yoga Tune Up ® blog at:
Our world pulls us forward. It’s undeniable. The prevalence of desktop, laptop and handheld technology, coupled with the irrefutable demand of gravity, draws the posture of modern day man into a “locked long” position of the rhomboid muscles. When the rhomboids are long, the shoulders round and the chest collapses and, as a result, full steady breathing becomes limited, the natural upward energy of human beings is instead dragged down toward the earth and the vital connection to the core disappears as the pelvis is shoved forward flattening the lumbar curve. This full reversal of the natural state of the spinal column exhausts the entire body, physically and mentally. Bringing these upper back muscles into a more engaged status is the solution and, with awareness, Yoga Tune Up® can get you there.
The rhomboids are a pair of muscles that reside on each side of the spine. These upper back muscles, named for the geometric shape they share with the rhombus, are deep to the trapezius muscle and connect the spine to the scapulae on both sides. Rhomboid minor, the smaller of the two, originates at the spinous processes of cervical vertebra seven (noted for its protrusion from the spine at the base of the neck) and thoracic vertebra one. It then stretches diagonally across the inner, upper back to insert at medial edge of each scapula. The larger half of the pair, rhomboid major, connects exclusively to the thoracic spine (thoracic vertebra two-five) and reaches in a diagonal direction across the upper back to insert at the lower medial edge of the each scapulae.
From this placement, it is no surprise that these muscles contribute significantly to the placement of the shoulder blades on the upper back. When they are “locked long”, the scapulae drape out to the side body, forcing the heads of the shoulders forward, and shorten the complementary muscle pair along the front body – the pectorals. This unfortunate placement translates into distinct weakness of both muscle pairs – the rhomboids and the pectorals. It makes breathing laborious and shallow, leaving the lower lobes of the lungs trapped under the descent of the ribcage. In essence, it adds to the burden of the forward pull of our world and drags bodies down.
Yoga Tune Up® incorporates balance into all it offers and options for strengthening the rhomboids and opening their partner, the pectoral muscles, abound and focus on returning the spine to its natural curves and supporting movement. The YTU action, Shoulder Circles can begin a journey of getting to know your rhomboids by taking the scapulae through their full range of motion. Here the rhomboids are required to engage and take on their responsibility of stabilizing, retracting and downwardly rotating the scapulae, in turn opening the chest and allowing the neck to balance the weight of the head evenly atop the spine. This action educates the body to recognize an engaged rhomboid and how toning the muscle can support the innate curves of the spine.
Follow Up article at:
Includes a video for toning the rhomboid muscles.