How To Relieve Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, Neck, Shoulder and Hip Pain

There is always a full body pattern of muscle tension that causes functional muscle pain.

In my last post I wrote about hip pain and how the posture of leaning and slumping into one's dominant side to reach for and use the computer mouse, can create hip pain. I often call this "computer-itis." This action also contributes to Thoracic Outlet Syndrome (TOS) and can also create shoulder and neck pain as one hunches, draws the shoulder forward, collapses through the ribcage and waist and concentrates on the work (and computer screen) at hand.

When we move, it is never just one muscle that lifts our arm, brings our leg forward, or bends our back.  Beneath our conscious awareness there is a perfectly balanced process of sensing and moving between agonist, antagonist and synergist muscles that allows us to coordinate each movement. If one muscle group contracts, its antagonist lengthens to allow the movement to happen. This is how we move through gravity efficiently and, we hope, with the least possible effort or pain. We are a system, controlled by the brain, not a jumble of separately moving parts. If there is tension in one part of the system, everything else in the system changes to accommodate and compensate.

If we change the way we move due to overuse, repetitive action, injury, or accidents we can develop the condition of Sensory Motor Amnesia (tight, "frozen" muscles that the brain has forgotten how to release). This means that your brain invariably contracts and recruits not just the muscles needed to complete the action, but also other groups of muscles that compensate to help us move. This dance between muscles stops working and both agonist and antagonist muscles become tightly contracted, as if we are stuck in a vise.

Thoracic Outlet Syndrome is a perfect example of Sensory Motor Amnesia. It can develop due to an habituated red light reflex, excessive computer work and habitual hunching of the shoulders. The scalene muscles become overly contracted and compress the thoracic outlet, causing tingling down into the fingers. Tight upper trapezius muscles, rounded, hunched shoulders contribute to the problem. Address the full body pattern of tightness through the center of the body and nerve conduction will improve.

Try these corrective Somatic Exercises for relief of shoulder pain, hip pain, and Thoracic Outlet Syndrome.

Here is a simple protocol for releasing, relaxing and retraining the muscles that become painfully tight from excessive computer work. This is useful for office workers, graphic artists, film or music editors, data input workers, and those whose work is simply repetitive.

Arch and flatten - allow the neck to move along with the movement.

Flower - allow the abdominals to soften and relax as you lengthen the front and open the chest.

Side bend - allow the waist muscles to contract and slowly lengthen.

Side Bend variation: In the video below is a Somatic Exercise that helps to release and relax the muscles involved in Thoracic Outlet Syndrome (TOS). TOS causes tingling into the fingers and symptoms similar to angina in some people. The problem lies in the fact that the muscles of the neck - specifically the scalenes, as well as the upper chest are tightly contracted. This puts pressure on the thoracic outlet, the space between your neck and upper chest where many blood vessels and nerves are found. I have used the Somatic Exercise below to get rid of TOS in my own body.

This is a full body pandiculation of exactly the muscles that "collapse" and tighten when you slump, jut your head forward to look at your computer screen and reach for your mouse:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fYxnRwvHeIE&feature=youtu.be]

Washrag - to open up the front of the body and connect the center of the body to the shoulders and hips.

Other wonderful Somatic Exercises that can help to battle "computer-itis" are the steeple twist, flower, neck and neck variations (from Pain-Free Neck and Shoulders).

Martha is available for corporate presentations on pain relief and workplace injury prevention. Save healthcare dollars and prevent worker injuries from repetitive muscle strain and overuse. For more information, email Martha.

3 Steps to Relieve Arm, Hand, and Wrist Pain

In my last post, I shared an email from a client who had severe arm, hand, and wrist pain. Rather than stretching those muscles (which can potentially make them tighter) or attempting to relax them through trigger point therapy or passive release, I guided my client to become aware of what she was doing with her body every day that contributed to a full body pattern of muscle tightness that contributed to her carpal tunnel syndrome.

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With arm, forearm, and hand pain, the brain is actively telling the muscles of the arms and hands  to stay tightly contracted. This could occur due to computer work, holding and using tools (as in construction),  fine motor work (such as jewelry making), or any repetitive action of the wrist. An involuntary pattern of contraction can become habituated if the muscles aren't taught, daily, how to release and relax.

Pandiculation is key

The most effective, long-term solution is to pandiculate these muscles: contracting them first just enough to feel the muscles, then slowly releasing them into full relaxation. This reeducates the muscles to both fully contract, and then fully release - and it happens at the level of your brain and nervous system.

Step 1: Release your center

To release the muscles of your periphery, you must first address the muscles of the center of the body that contribute to tight forearms. Remember that the body works as a whole cooperative system, not as a separate series of interchangeable parts. Somatic Exercises such as Arch & Flatten, Arch & Curl, or the Back Lift will help you to release your center. Relax the large muscles in the center of the body, and the periphery (the arms, hands, legs and feet) will move more freely, relax more completely and move more efficiently.

Step 2: Be aware of your body

Pay attention to the way in which you sit when you're at the computer, drive, or use your arms and hands in your work. Slumping to one side, or tightening one shoulder is a pattern that can contribute to arm, hand, and wrist pain. When you are aware of your movement habits, you will more easily recognize what you do on a daily basis to contribute to your pain. When you can recognize these habits as they happen, you can correct yourself in real time.

Step 3: Maintain a daily routine of Somatic Exercises

Enjoy this self-care video and notice how much more relaxed and free your arms, hands, and wrist feel. A daily practice of Somatic Exercises to keep muscle tension and pain at bay is as important as brushing your teeth to prevent cavities.

Pain Relief For Carpal Tunnel and Arm Pain

I'd like to share a story sent to me by a client how Somatic Movements helped her relieve her arm pain, wrist pain, and carpal tunnel syndrome and become more aware of how she works at her desk:

Lately I've been having hand, wrist, and forearm pain. It had been getting worse for about 2-3 months. In the last 2 weeks it's been so painful that it also reduced my grip strength severely. I need my hands for my work, so this is not acceptable. Most of the pain is centered on my right forearm near the elbow, and around the wrist when using the mouse with my computer. The pain and problem even affects my ability to take notes with a pencil! I spend much time at the computer, running my own businesses. I do a lot of research using only my mouse-hand to click.

I told Martha about the problem and she told me that the issue was probably Sensory Motor Amnesia (SMA) in my arm, which affected my hand. The muscles had "forgotten" to stop contracting. I now know a lot about SMA and Hanna Somatics, but I was thinking that I had a repetitive stress injury. Martha reminded me that "repetitive stress injury" was about contracting the same muscles over a long amount of time, and "freezing up," which was the definition of SMA.

We scheduled a Skype video session. I showed her my injured muscles as well as my health history. Then she showed me a series of Somatic movements designed to reduce the muscle tension and lessen my muscle  pain. She also asked me many questions about my posture and my [computer] working habits.

Later that night, the pain returned. I could see the difference between my mouse arm and my other arm: my mouse arm and hand was "thicker" and tighter. Hanna Somatics practitioners are trained to assess clients' muscle tightness to determine if the body is holding excess muscle tension. My arm was very painful and I could not even close my hand; if I could close my hand, the effort hurt. This is how I realize that my hand was stuck in a contracted holding-mouse position.

I repeated the series of forearm and wrist movements that Martha taught me over our Skype session. Instantly, after completing the series (it took about 5 minutes), I could feel my muscles relax, and my arm was not swollen or tight anymore. I could close my hand, too. My arm felt relaxed, which relaxed my body, and I was without pain. I remembered that Martha said that we are retraining the brain to relax the muscles.

However, I realized that when I returned to my computer, the pain and stiffness returned - I didn't even need to be "repetitive" in my movements.

I am now working on changing my posture, chair height, mouse position, and tension level. Martha even told me that tensing an entire arm, or leaning on my arm, can affect all the way down to my hand! It's been about 24 hours since working with Martha on my wrist, hand and arm. I can release my own pain, and now I am working on fixing the conditions that make the pain return. I am looking forward to working with Martha more to pinpoint my posture and tension habits. However I have learned to release any pain that arises... and soon will improve my body-awareness enough to keep the pain away forever.

In my next post I will share a video of the movements and techniques I taught this client during our Skype session. Stay tuned!