Updated: Feb 3
This blog is part of a series on 'Moving Better', based on the book 'Move your DNA' (Katie Bowman).
At In-Sync Pilates, we pride ourselves in educating our clients and creating awareness of 'how' they move. Through our blogs, videos and suggested reads, we keep our clients inspired to ‘move better’ in their daily lives beyond the hour in the Studio.
When talking about the upper body I would like to go one step back. We can all start by ‘moving more’.
The most obvious and common ‘structural adaptation’ in the human body is noticeable in the spine and shoulders. In my Pilates Practice, I am daily challenged with individuals with tight and rounded shoulders, weak hands and wrists and almost no upper body strength. I notice it mostly in the limited range of motion in the shoulders -individuals not being able to lift their arms above their heads or move the shoulder blades when they do basic exercises. These individuals normally also suffer from a typical rounded upper back that is in severe cases 'stuck' and almost immovable.
A rounded upper (thoracic) spine, also called hyperkyphosis is mainly caused by lack of mobility in the upper body. Mobility of our arms, shoulders and upper bodies is very important in maintaining structure in the body as it is responsible for keeping the upper (thoracic) spine upright.
Katie Bowman chooses the word 'Chronic positioning’, to refer to the frequent use of the same position over and over again. Spending most of our days sitting on a chair, haunched over a computer, tissues adapt to that position over time.
I like to call it adaption from ‘immobilisation’ as it all starts with moving or NOT moving. Most healthy individuals often use their legs to get from one place to another, whether they walk or cycle (especially here in the Netherlands). We need to start moving our upper bodies more.
We are not using our hands much either. We sit most of the time with our hands in a cupped position over some form of keyboard or mouse. We seldom need to grip or use the strength of our hands.
Upper body mobilisation and strengthening, require strong wrists and hands. If we do not have strength in our hands, it will prevent us from progressing well when doing the more ‘natural’ upper body movements like hanging, swinging and lifting.
Immobility has been associated with:
-decrease in muscle size (atrophy),
-reduced blood flow and oxygen that reaches the muscles,
-reduction in proprioception (knowing where your body parts are in relation to each other);
-reduction in bone mass
Getting rid of the 'sticky spots':
A lack of movement in our arms and upper body results in the tightening of connective tissue surrounding the muscles, creating 'sticky-spots'. Immobility-induced connective tissue growth creates a sort of binding between muscle parts, which becomes tight and immovable, similar to scar tissue. Removing or softening this tight tissue (fascia) sometimes requires more than just movement. In certain cases this tightness around and between muscles can inhibit the contraction and release of a muscle, preventing it from functioning optimally.
In my Pilates Practice, I often see individuals with tight fascia in the upper body. Lack of movement in the arms directly affects the spine, especially the muscles around the shoulders and in the mid- and upper back. Moving and strengthening the muscles around the shoulders (shoulder girdle muscles) is the starting point in addressing hyperkyphotic upper backs (forward curve of the thoracic spine) and forward head positions.
A 'forward' head is often associated with a hyperkyphotic upper back. When the head is tilted forward and not right above the spine, it places an extra burden on the upper part of the spine, increasing the angle of the forward curve over time. It often goes hand in hand with a 'hump' or excessive fat in the back of the neck. This deposition of fat is the body's mechanism to protect the spine from the burden of carrying the additional weight of the head.
Practical tips to start moving your upper body:
Self test: Imagine a Globe around you and try to touch the inside perimeter of the globe without lifting your ribcage/sternum. If you have limited range of motion in you shoulders, this won’t be possible without lifting your ribcage.
Your starting point would then be to mobilise your upper body by 'moving more'. In my blog 'Its about Progression not Perfection', I have listed corrective exercises that you can start doing within your limits or current range of motion. Doing these exercises regularly will help increase the range of motion in your shoulders without compromising in other ways.
Ask your Pilates teacher or Physical therapist to assess whether you have any tight spots.
In severe cases, corrective exercises may not be enough to release the 'sticky spots'. The following therapeutic solutions and products are avialable to help reduce these adhesions between muscles.
-Voodo Floss Compression Bands: sold by rogue fitness.com
-Yamuna Body Rolling: yamunausa.com
-Yoga Tune Up Therapy Balls: yogatuneup.com
-MELT Method: meltmethod.com
-Myofascial Release: myofascialrelease.com
-Kinesis Myofascial Integration: anatomy trains.com/at/kmi
At In-Sync Pilates, our instructors are qualified to give you the best guidance progressing safely, without the risk of injury.