The shoulder area is where people most often experience tension and want a massage. Why? Well there’s usually three factors at work - the structure and functioning of the shoulder muscles, lack of arm activities, and stress.
Shoulder muscles and actions
There is an intimate relationship between the shoulders and hands. The upper trapezius (and levator scapulae underneath) support the shoulder blade and the arm. In any action, trapezius is involved in stabilising the shoulder-blade to provide a stable ‘platform’ for arm movements, and via them for using your hands.
In fact, all of the superficial muscles of the upper trunk are involved in arm movements. Pectoralis major at the front and latissimus dorsi at the back move the arm across the front of the chest and downwards respectively, while deltoid (at the top of the arm) lifts the arm.
The ‘rotator cuff’ muscles (between the scapula and the head of the humerus) do small arm movements themselves, and crucially keep the head of the humerus against the scapula ‘socket’ when the arm is being moved by these large, strong muscles.
Trapezius, levator scapulae, the rhomboids, serratus anterior and pectoralis minor are ‘scapular stabilisers’ - they move the scapula around the ribs and then stabilise it in place for arm (and hand) activities.
The sedentary lifestyle and stress
In our modern sedentary lives, most people gradually tighten their shoulders, ‘forgetting’ movements that are not part of daily life (unless they maintain the active range of arm movements through swimming or exercise, dance, yoga etc classes). This is especially common for those who spend a large part of each day hunched over computers.
And, of course, most of us tense our shoulders when we are stressed.
What to do?
Self help approaches include exercises that mobilise the shoulders, learning relaxation procedures and stress management.
· Bodywork needs to include release and mobilisation:
· deep work, where appropriate, to soften the muscles and release tension (including deep tissue massage and assisted stretches - e.g. NMT, PNF etc);
· and stretches and mobilising techniques (to remind clients of how their shoulders / arms can move).