In conditions of chronic muscle or joint pain, the standard approach is to address the area where pain is being felt. But often, a movement pattern or postural pattern is the underlying cause of the pain. If the pain is relieved with medication, spot therapy, or surgery, it is likely to come back because the root cause of the pain – the movement pattern – has not been addressed. Much like a leak in your roof; you can keep collecting the dripping water in a pail to prevent your floors from getting wet, but if you don’t repair your roof, you’ll have to collect water in that pail indefinitely.
In conditions of shoulder pain and inflammation, such as bursitis and tendinitis, the glenohumeral joint is most often treated directly because that is where the pain is being felt and the damage is being done. However, the underlying cause is most often tightness in the core of the body, in particular the muscles which attach to the shoulder blade and the muscles which contribute to the mobility of the spine.
The glenohumeral joint (see diagram at right) is a ball and socket joint, and with 120 degrees of flexion it is the most mobile joint in the human body. However, it does have its limitations. In the photo below (see Photo 1), I’m pressing my left hand down on my right shoulder to make sure I don’t lift up my shoulder blade (scapula). As long as my shoulder blade is locked down, I can’t lift my arm above 90 degrees. This is one of the limitations of the glenohumeral joint. In order to lift my arm any higher, I have to let my shoulder blade move upward (see Photo 2).
There are 18 muscles that attach to the shoulder blade, and if any of them are chronically tight, the movement of your shoulder blade is limited. When you’re not able to get full range of motion of your shoulder blade, you will start demanding more from your glenohumeral joint. Every time you reach for something or lift something up, you’ll put undue stress and pressure on the joint, which over time leads to conditions such as bursitis, tendinitis, and rotator cuff injuries.
Your ability to reach and bend doesn’t just depend on the mobility of your shoulder blade and glenohumeral joint; they are just two pieces of the puzzle. A great deal of your ability to reach for something comes from your spine’s ability to move freely (see Photo 3). With all the joints in your spine, you have almost unlimited ability to reach, bend and twist!
There are numerous muscles of the back, waist, chest, and abdomen that contribute to the spine’s mobility. Chronic tightness in your obliques will limit your ability to reach up and to the side; tightness in your back will limit your ability to reach and bend forward; and tightness in your chest and abdominals will limit your ability to reach and bend backward.
Just as tightness in your back, side, and shoulder girdle muscles can result in pain in the glenohumeral joint, so can they lead to elbow and wrist pain. If the movement of your shoulder becomes limited (such as in the condition of frozen shoulder), you will begin to demand too much of your elbow and wrist, leading to conditions such as tennis elbow and Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.
If permanent structural damage has been done to your shoulder, or to any joint, surgery can be a viable option. But keep in mind that the surgery will not change your damaging movement pattern that caused the injury in the first place, so it is likely that the injury will occur again.
So, how do you change a movement pattern and release chronic, habitual muscle tension? Through very slow, conscious movements which force you to bring the control of your movements back into the cortex of your brain, where motor learning occurs. Moving in this way allows you to unlearn damaging movement patterns and relearn a natural, efficient way to move. Clinical Somatic Education uses very specific movement techniques which release chronically tight muscles by resetting the alpha-gamma loop, a sensory-motor feedback loop in your nervous system which regulates muscle length.
If you’re in pain and want to learn more, click here to schedule a private session or a free assessment. If you have minor aches & pains or mild muscle tension, join us at our next workshop. If you’d rather learn how to do Somatics in the comfort of your home, try one of our instructional somatics exercise recordings.
Want to read some case studies and learn more about the neurophysiology behind the Somatics techniques? Check out Thomas Hanna’s groundbreaking book Somatics: Reawakening the Mind’s Control of Movement, Flexibility, and Health.