In this post we’ll be dealing with upper body issues as they relate to poor posture and as with the lower body there are again a couple of areas that can give us quick results., the thoracic spine and ribs and the big movers of the humerus the lat’s and pec’s. There are obviously other areas that need to be examined but these are a great starting point.
The slouched position we see in so many people when they are seated involves flexion of the thoracic spine. In this position the shoulder girdle falls forward as the scapula slide around the rib cage and causes the humerus to rotate internally, this is compounded as pec major and minor tighten and thicken. Pec minor plays a role as it is involved in rotating the scapula rotates outwards whilst pec major shortens due to the change in position of the humerus which comes about from the movement of the scapula and hence the gleno-humeral joint, this similarly affects the lat’s. So as you can see long periods in this flexed position can eventually lead to decreased mobility in the rib and vertebral joints, a loss of medial and lateral rotation of the humerus and forces the cervical spine into extension, often severely. The position and problems that arise from this position, often referred to as the Upper Crossed Syndrome, follows a pattern of facilitated (and tight) muscles along with inhibited (and weak) ones. The pattern of tight and weak muscles is what we expect to see when we consider reciprocal inhibition and that if a muscle is working then its antagonist has to be “switched off”. So if pec minor is facilitated then the rhomboids are going to have to be inhibited. As we spend longer in any position or movement pattern the fascial system will adapt to support the position or movement resulting in a thickening of the tissue in the area and restricting those movements which are antagonistic to the norm.
When we become stuck in this flexed position and lose our ability to properly extend and even maintain a neutral trunk position it has repercussions beyond simply our vertebral joints being stuck. As I mentioned above the scapula slide forward on the rib cage which affects our ability through all ranges of movement of the shoulder, or more correctly the gleno-humeral joint. Simply being able to extend the spine, by improving the mobility of the vertebral joints, will increase the range of movement by placing the shoulder girdle, and hence the gleno-humeral joint, into a better position. Allowing the shoulder girdle to slide back into the correct position and can be improved further by dealing with the soft tissues which are directly affect the movements around it. If we look to improve the tone and length of the pectorals and lat’s, two of the biggest movers of the humerus we can have a massive impact on shoulder positioning. We also want to look at the rib joints both at the body of the vertebral body and especially on the transverse processes as the vertebral joint will be mobilised along with the vertebrae themselves. Ribs 1 and 2 especially can interfere with movement in the shoulder girdle if they get stuck in an elevated position, not uncommon among those who spend a lot of time typing or driving. If these ribs become stuck in an elevated position they can interfere with our ability to full extend the arm overhead as they get in the way of shoulder girdle tilting backwards as we move out arms up towards our heads.
If we want to improve the mobility of our vertebral joints we have a couple of options available to us. We can work on flexion and extension of the spine as demonstrated here and we can perform a similar movement on either a foam roller or double ball set up as demonstrated here. The advantage of the foam roller/ball option is it allows us to be more specific and really target those joints that are stiffest; the double ball makes this even easier. For the upper costo-transverse rib joints this movement done with a single ball is great with the added benefit of helping deal with any tension through the rhomboids. For the lat’s and pec’s we want to stretch out the tissues but also bias the movement towards better joint positioning so as we stretch the lat’s but do so whilst trying to recover lost movement in lateral rotation of the humerus e.g. as we stretch the lat’s we want to be rotating the humerus laterally to look to regain the lost external rotation that can come from the lat’s shortening, the lat’s being medial rotators of the humerus. Here’s a great look at working around the whole shoulder complex by Kelly Starret. If you don’t have access to bands here are a couple to try for the pec’s and lat’s. I would definitely recommend looking at Kelly Starret’s MobilityWod blog and Eric Cressey’s blog for further ideas on how to keep yourself mobile and prevent injuries from happening because you were in a bad position.