Do you suffer from pain in your shoulders and neck? Maybe it’s the result of working at your desk, driving a car, picking up kids or perhaps you hold tension in this region of the body when you are feeling stressed. We also at times close in the areas of the chest and shoulders as a way to protect ourselves emotionally. Whatever the reason, nagging pain in the shoulders and neck can be exhausting. The good news is, there are some simple self-massage techniques you can do any time to relieve this aching pain. Some other benefits of these techniques are that they can improve your backbends and make upper body work (planks, press-ups, anything on our hands really) more easeful.
My experience after practising the shoulder rejuvenating sequence that I have recorded for you this week: There is a lot of mind-body connection required to execute a lot of the movements. I found it quite taxing (we hold a lot of old tension, stress and toxins in our shoulders and hips so you can often feel quite exhausted afterwards). Drink lots of water! The day after doing it I was really sore and was dreading doing some upper bodywork, especially press-ups! What I noticed though was that I wasn’t sore executing press-ups and in fact, I felt much lighter and stronger. So by releasing tension my muscles were able to engage more efficiently and I felt stronger than ever. Win!
Myofascial Release (MFR) is a massage technique that works with both the muscles and fascia. Myo refers to the muscles, while fascia refers to the connective tissue and fascia. MFR can be very simple but it’s also incredibly complex. The goal of myofascial release is to reduce pain, restore flexibility, hydrate tissues, re-establish healthy movement between the myo-fascia and allow for free passage of signals through the connective tissue system.
What is Fascia?
The fascial web is one continuous interconnected system of connective tissue that exists from head to toe without any interruption. In quite recent history, connective tissue was believed to be a ‘space filler’ and was cut away in a cadaver. However, in more recent years its relevance has become increasingly important as bodyworkers and the medical community are realizing its vital role in creating support, providing separation, protection, hydration and communication for the body.
When coming to practice MFR, there are some fundamentals to consider:
- Avoid bone: you won’t cause damage to the bone but it will just feel uncomfortable.
- Avoid areas of acute injury/ inflammation/ swelling. If you have an area of acute pain, work around that region softly rather than irritating even more.
- Change the position of the ball if you feel numbness, tingling, shooting or sharp pain.
- Less is more: the aim of MFR is to reduce pain and deep-seated tension. If applying pressure on the massage balls is causing you to tense up more and screw your face up (!) then ease off as there’s every chance that you’ll be causing more tension rather than less, making the practice counterproductive.
Neck Release on a Block
Good For: releasing tension in the sub-occipital muscles at the base of the skull, which work hard all day holding the head upright.
Props: 1 block and a blanket
Lie supine on the ground with both knees bent and your feet on the floor. Lift your head and place the block on its medium height. The bottom edge of the block should be pressing into the base of the skull (approximately where the hair line is). Allow your head to be really heavy on the block. Very slowly, start to move your head from right to left (as if you were shaking your head to say ‘no’). Make sure that as you do this you are keeping your head really heavy on the block. When you find a point of tension that you can work with, pause for a couple of breaths at the spot. Allow the weight of your head and gravity sink down into the block, releasing deep-seated tension at the base of the skull. When you feel even on both sides, move the block to one side to lie the back of your head on the ground. If you suffer from headaches or find that the block alone is too intense, place the blanket over the block to reduce the intensity.
Corners of the Neck
Good For: Releasing tension in two common trigger points for the upper portion of the Trapezius muscles. This is a common area of the body that people tend to hold onto stress.
Props: 2 tennis balls/massage balls, blanket and a block
Lie on your back and use your right hand to place the ball at the left ‘corner of the neck’ and use your left hand to place the ball on the right side. This might already feel tender for some people, in which case stay as you are. If you would like to apply more pressure onto the balls, lift and place your hips on the block. If you would still like to apply more pressure onto the balls, raise your arms up above your head so the backs of your hands are resting on the ground behind you. Stay here for about one minute and breathe deeply. Just as before, you can place a blanket over the balls to reduce the intensity.
Between the Shoulder Blades
Good For: Releasing tension in space in between the shoulder blades, the Rhomboid muscles. This tends to be a common area of tightness and tension, especially for people who sit for a large portion of the day.
Props: 2 tennis balls/massage balls, pillow and a blanket
Lie on your back and bend both knees so your feet are on the ground. Use your right hand to place the ball between the left shoulder blade and the spine and use your left hand to place the ball on the right side. At this point, you may like to lie your head on a pillow. Bring your arms out in a ‘T’ position, with the palms of your hands turned up toward the ceiling. If this is already tender, stay as you are and breath deeply. You can also bring your arms across your body as if you were giving yourself a hug. When you find a point that you can work with, stay there and breath. After about one minute, remove the balls and lie flat on your back.