The next day, I was out for a walk when I felt searing pain shoot across my shoulder and down my arm. Deep down, like something was scraping my upper arm bone.
I could not sleep, despite taking Ibuprofen. I just couldn't find a comfortable position. My shoulder hurt terribly and my whole arm ached. The next day, I called Ortho One and asked to see a shoulder specialist. When I got there, he had me do some basic strength and range of motion tests. He reported, "The injury is not in your shoulder, it is in your neck. I am referring you to a spine doctor."
But my shoulder is killing me! I can point right to where it hurts. I wasn't convinced.
While I waited to get in with the spine guru, I had several shoulder massages. The massage therapist explained referred pain to me and worked on the muscles around my shoulder blade, which had seized up in response to the nerve pinch. So, you know me by now. I went home and looked it up.
"Cervical radiculopathy is referred to as a pinched nerve in the neck. It is characterized by radiating pain from the neck to the shoulder, shoulder blade, arm or possibly hand."
Crap. Maybe it was my neck. So I went to see the spine guru, and he not only explained how a pinched nerve in the cervical spine can cause shoulder and arm pain, but he also explained how it is often caused by muscular imbalance known as Upper Cross Syndrome.
Tight pecs/chest muscles, shoulders rounded forward, weak upper back, tight neck muscles. A pain in the neck.
Get this. Often caused by sitting. At a desk or computer, poor posture, lack of stretching, bad form, head down, our digital life, "body by Microsoft".
The most common muscle imbalance in women over 40.
There you have it. What I didn't know back then was working the front of the body too much (push-ups, chest press, chest fly, etc.) without keeping the upper back strong and the pectorals at their proper length could cause major postural alignment problems. Especially if we spend time at a desk, computer, drive a lot, etc.
What I learned is we are all a millimeter away from being in pain. These disks are right there next to our nerves. Not just in the neck, everywhere along the spine.
The good news, I thought, is we are all a millimeter away from being out of pain. So I got to work and I began to study Upper Cross Syndrome.
I learned that resistance band rows are the number one way to strengthen the muscles that prevent Upper Cross. So, if you ever wonder why we do those almost every workout, it is built in prevention. We also do about 3 times as many PULL exercises as pushes. This is by design, to help counteract all the bad posture habits we have. We do dumbbell rows, cable rows, pull downs, band rows and many more. We make certain to never overdo chest press or push ups. And we make sure you do them right, so you don't make the mistake I made on those pull downs in 2005.
But there is another component to prevention, and getting out of pain if you are in it. That is lengthening the tight/short muscles back to their intended length. There are lots of tools in the toolbox for that. Massage, stretching, yoga!, Pilates, foam rolling. This is daily practice. If you are at a desk a lot, you have to teach yourself to stretch often. Sit tall, like a choir girl. Chest proud. Shoulders back. Spine lengthened.
My posture changed entirely when I began to practice Upper Cross prevention. I still do it. Chest stretch. Band rows. Proper form. Minimal/light chest work. Sit tall. Chest proud. Get up from the desk. Shoulders back. Once I put these practices in place, along with physical therapy, my pinched nerve healed and has never returned. Every now and then I feel hints of those tight pecs/shoulder tightness, and I get on it immediately. I don't ever want to lose that millimeter of space between my disk and nerve again.
It's October 1st. Let's all commit to our posture this month, and see how we feel by the 31st. Some ideas:
Unplug for 30 minutes a day and do your band rows (3 sets of 25), practice a few chest-opening yoga poses (I'll see if Margie will post a few), foam roll, sit tall and breathe deeply or simply stretch.
Add yoga to your week for the month of October. We have private sessions at the studio, or nearby studios have lots of wonderful options. Find something close to home and get loose.
Try Pilates! I love this work for the combination of lengthening and strengthening. We do tons of stretching in the Saturday 11:30 a.m. class. Many women over the years have attended my Pilates classes because their doctor told them it would help with their core, back strength and posture.
Fix your desk so you can sit tall and straight. Add a stretch break every 30 minutes.
Get a massage and have the therapist work on your pectorals and front of the shoulder. Ouch, I know, but effective.
I know from experience, if we are vigilant we can quickly correct muscle imbalances and get out of pain. Have you ever wondered where the term "on my nerves" comes from? I don't like being around people who get on my nerves. I certainly don't want to allow my disks, ligaments and tendons to get on my nerves, either. Luckily, we are just a millimeter away.
So let's do this. October. Posture month. Sit up straight, walk tall and show your spine some love.
Now get stretching!
If you need help with stretching or yoga, schedule your private session and learn how to do it properly. Contact Margie at firstname.lastname@example.org