Shari Duncan

Shoulders in a Slump? Perk up your Posture !

by on May.16, 2010, under Fitness, General HEALTH, Stretching / Flexibility

Physical therapists call it upper-cross syndrome. I call it a pain in the neck, literally.

The older I get, the more rounded my shoulders appear. Poor posture is neither attractive or healthy.   So today I decided was the day to start doing something about it.  And naturally, I am sharing some tips and exercises that can reverse the effects of  slumping shoulders and improve posture.

Rounded shoulders can be caused by sitting at a desk or leaning forward for long periods of time. Anyone who sits extensively with their arms out in front of them, are prone to hunched shoulders.  (think hours on the computer, at your desk, or driving) If you have a forward head and rounded shoulders, you also probably have tight chest muscles and loose upper back muscles.  When the shoulders begin to slump, the muscles of the chest begin to shorten, the small muscles between the shoulder blades begin to weaken and the muscles of the back begin to lengthen, increasing the tendency to slump. Slumping collapses the chest and can also restrict breathing capacity.

Have your picture taken side view to determine postural concerns

Have your picture taken side view to determine postural concerns

Go ahead and give yourself a good once over in the mirror to check your alignment or have someone take your picture from the side.  Check to see if the middle of your ear is in line with the middle of your shoulder, hip, and ankle. If you can’t draw a straight line through these points, then you’ve just been diagnosed .  Proper posture involves aligning the body so that the pull of gravity is evenly distributed. What an eye opener this turned out to be for me. After studying my photographs, I recognized that I was in need of ALOT of corrective work.

Good posture includes:

  • A straight line from your ears, shoulders, hips, knees and ankles
  • Head is centered
  • Shoulders, hips and knees are of equal height

Another self test to see if you are crossed up:

Place two fingers at the top of your right shoulder and feel for a bony notch that protrudes from it. That’s your acromion. Now grab a ruler and lie on your back on the floor, your right arm resting alongside your body. With your left hand, measure the distance from your right acromion to the floor, being careful not to raise or lower your right shoulder as you do so. If the distance is more than 1 in ch, you have upper-cross syndrome.

Improve your posture by strengthening the weak upper back muscles, while stretching tight muscles in the chest, shoulders, lats and hips. As the upper back becomes stronger and the chest becomes more flexible, the shoulders naturally pull back—a sign of improved posture

These  stretches are sometimes used in rehab programs.

  1. While standing with feet shoulder width and knees moderately bent, bend the arms and raise the elbows as if they were wings. I use light hand weights to reinforce the workout, but do what works for you. Make fists and touch the thumb side of the fists to the chest. Next, while keeping the elbows level and at shoulder level, push the elbows horizontally back as far as possible. Do not jerk the elbows; just push them back smoothly and evenly. Hold them back as far as possible for a count of five, and then slowly bring the elbows back to the starting position.
  2. Standing with feet shoulder width and knees moderately bent, straighten the arms, horizontally and level with the floor, out to the sides and level with the shoulders. Turn the arms so that the palms are faced to the rear and push the arms back as far as possible and hold for a count of five. To increase the difficulty, find a wall and, standing as above, lean back against the wall and then push yourself forward. You can also use hand weights and bend and straighten the legs to increase the difficulty. Start with five or so repetitions and work up slowly.

To offset this muscle imbalance, it is necessary to work to strengthen the muscles of the back with pulling exercises like lateral rowing, shoulder rotation exercises, and lat pull downs.

Some other corrective exercises that work to stretch the chest area and also tighten the upper back muscles are the reverse fly and the back extension. There are many acceptable variations for each of these exercises.  They can easily be performed at home or worked into your training sessions at the gym on circuit machines, resistance bands or with light free weights.

Stand or Sit; with or without weight, this stretch will help correct rounded shoulders

Stand or Sit; with or without weight, this stretch will help correct rounded shoulders

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Rotator cuff exercise:

Will reduce the appearance of rounded shoulders and help pull them back and up. Stand tall with your arms bent at 45 degrees in front of you and elbows tucked slightly in to the waist. You can use light dumbbells for this exercise if you wish, but they aren’t necessary.

EXECUTION: Rotate the arms outward until they are each facing toward opposite walls, away from your body. Keeping the arms bent, press your hands toward the rear, as if you’re trying to touch something just behind you. This is a small move–a couple of inches at most. Perform this backward move between 10 and 15 times, keeping the shoulder blades pressed downward. You should feel the back muscles and the muscles between the shoulder blades compressing together. This exercise is also a great tension reliever!

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