Oh my back, my neck, my shoulders!
Just when we thought it was safe . . . another snow storm! Where we will put all this snow? How can we shovel any more when we’re already feeling the pings and pains of over-shoveling? Our lower backs are aching and our shoulders are painfully hunched up straining our necks. How can we take any more?
Even if you can hire a plow, you still need to shovel doorways, walkways, and perhaps the mail box area. So it’s a good idea to do some stretching before picking up that shovel this time around. Before heading outdoors, and before putting on all the layers that can limit movement, lie down on a flat surface that allows you to move freely in clothes that don’t restrict.
- Lying on your back, pull your knees to your chest and hug them. Hold that pose for 20 to 30 seconds so that muscles and joints can become loose.
- Now put feet flat on floor and just pull one knee to the chest. Hold for 20 or 30 seconds again before replacing foot flat to floor and pulling the other knee to the chest. Alternate legs five to ten times, again holding the stretch long enough to loosen the muscles.
- To help with hamstrings and hips, cross one leg over the opposite knee, wrap your hands under the lower knee and pull to your chest and hold. This should give a good hip stretch as well as your hamstrings. Alternate legs to loosen both sides.
To help necks and shoulders, try these exercises, but remember to do them slowly and never bring a stretch to the point of pain.
- Chin to chest stretch can be done while standing or sitting. Gently bend your head forward while tucking your chin towards your chest until you feel the stretch in the back of your neck. Hold for 20 to 30 seconds.
- A lateral flexion from ear to shoulder will help the top of the shoulders and stretch the neck area beneath the ears. Gently bend your neck to one side trying to touch your ear to your shoulder (don’t lift that shoulder to meet it!) until you feel the side of your neck stretch. Then go to the other side.
- Corner stretches can help the neck, chest and shoulder muscles as well. Find a corner of the room and facing it, stand about two feet back with your feet together. Place your forearms on each wall with your elbows a little below shoulder height. Lean in as far as possible without pain and hold the stretch for about 30 to 60 seconds. This stretch works great doing it three to five times a day and preferably before any neck strengthening exercises.
- The wall or a door jamb is a good place to do a levator scapula stretch. This is a muscle that gets tight and tender where it attaches to the shoulder blade. Standing parallel to the wall, raise your elbow above the shoulder so your elbow is resting on the wall. Turn your head away from the side that is stretching and bring your chin down to stretch the back of the neck. Put your free hand on the top of your head and gently pull your head forward to increase the stretch. Hold for about 30 to 60 seconds. Alternate sides.
There are many good strengthening exercises to do after stretching out and if this storm has taught us one thing, it’s probably that most of us don’t have real strong necks, shoulders and backs! So look into some therapeutic approaches building those muscles up but be cautious. Don’t jump into a gym membership or run out to buy weights without speaking with your doctor about your particular needs. There are many good physical therapist and orthopedic specialists in the area. Talk to your doctor about a referral to access the best services to alleviate your pain and strengthen your spine, shoulders and necks.