"Richard" was a tall, young athletic man who worked long hours as a computer consultant. He suffered a rotator cuff injury years ago in a car accident. This left him with chronic shoulder pain even after months of physical therapy, massage, and medical treatment. He said that he had never felt the same since and, despite the fact that he was only 38 years old, he was beginning to think that he was just "getting old." His daily computer usage only made his already painful right shoulder tighter than ever. He was close to developing a "frozen shoulder." The truth was that his shoulder wasn't frozen - the center of his body was.
The shoulder joint isn't just the joint itself; the muscles that move and stabilize the shoulder and coordinate synergistically to move what we think of as "the shoulder" originate in the center of the body. Tight chest muscles pull the shoulders forward and tight upper shoulder muscles (trapezius) hunch the shoulders up. Tight muscles of the side body will pull the shoulder joint downward. When you learn to release and relax the center of the body, movement in the periphery – the shoulder in this case – will improve dramatically.
Richard was motivated to figure out how to reverse his shoulder pain and regain control of his muscles for two reasons: he had been physically active before his injury, and he had a six-month-old baby he wanted to hold without experiencing pain.
Accidents can cause accumulated muscle tension throughout the entire body.
I wasn't surprised that Richard's right side was so tight; he'd had several car accidents. He had also fractured his left leg in a sports accident without realizing it and had continued to play, compensating strongly with his right side. His right side had been accumulating muscle tension for a long time before his shoulder injury became apparent. His brain had done an efficient work-around; because the brain could no longer sense or control the muscles he should be using, it had recruited other muscles to do the job. Now everything was tight!
If muscles can learn to stay tight, they can also learn to relax.
In our first session, I taught Richard to relax the deep muscles of the back of his body (the Green Light muscles), including the muscles of the shoulder: the upper trapezius, rhomboids, and lower trapezius. I taught him to pandiculate these muscles, so that his brain could take back voluntary control of muscles that had been involuntarily contracted. He learned to soften the muscles so that they were ready for action again.
After his session, Richard was amazed at how much better his shoulder felt and how much more movement he now had after doing such simple movements. I sent him home with four basic movements to do daily to reinforce the new and improved range of motion that he had achieved.
Release the center of the body for quick relief of shoulder pain.
I saw Richard for one more session in which he learned to release and relax the muscles of twisting and bending. These muscles, known as the "core," are merely the muscles of the center of the body that allows us to flex, extend, side bend, and rotate our spine. If they are involuntarily contracted, they restrict movement of our periphery – from the shoulder and neck down to the pelvis, legs, and feet.
Richard also learned to release the tight latissimus dors muscle on his right side. The latissimus is the broadest muscle of the body and while it attaches up into the front of the shoulder, it extends all the way into the center of the body and attaches to the pelvis. By the end of his session, his pain was completely gone. The changes he had made himself, using his brain to retrain his muscles, were impressive and inspiring. He left my office with a huge smile on his face saying, "this work makes so much sense." He vowed to continue his daily Hanna Somatic Exercises. I look forward to not seeing Richard again for any more sessions; he now has the self-awareness and skills to take care of himself.
To learn how to relieve neck and shoulder pain on your own, you can purchase my instructional Pain-Free Neck and Shoulders DVD.