by Vera Needham
I think I can help with these great shoulder exercises. Let’s start with spinal extension. Are you thinking this is not a shoulder exercise? Think again. Most shoulder injuries begin with poor posture.
Try standing with a broom stick behind your back. Your head, shoulder, and bottom should all be against the stick. If your head isn’t against the stick this is an indication of poor posture and flight becomes a key exercise. Everything in our job as a groomer is in front of us and in the center.
All of the combing, brushing and repetitive movement combined with forward head posture causes pectoral muscles (at the front of your body on the chest) to get very tight. Pectoral are a huge set of muscles that pull with a lot of torque. When they are tight they pull the shoulder forward causing them to round. This rounding causes the humerus to sit slightly forward of the joint leading to shoulder instability.
There is a space where the nerves pass through in the shoulder which is only about the size of your little finger. When the joint moves the space for the nerves gets smaller causing neurocompression. This means your nerves get squished and they quit working efficiently. Compression of the nerve trunk can create an orchestra of symptoms. One common one is pins and needles and numbness but even carpal tunnel originates with poor posture.
Now imagine your head being a ten pound bowling ball. If you put your fingers in the bowling ball and held it in the palm of your hand you could probably hold it for quite a while without strain. If you tipped the bowling ball forward a few inches you would immediately start to feel stress in the wrist. It would not take long until the bowling ball was impossible to hold. That is exactly what forward head posture is like. That is why our necks can have so much tension.
Our head is about an eighth of our body weight so the average head is ten to fifteen pounds. Forward head posture causes stress to the neck, shoulder and back. Proper execution of this exercise begins by lying on your stomach with the palms slapping the floor.
Imagine you have a flashlight on top of your head. The goal is to keep the neck long so that the light would shine on the wall in front of you never towards the ceiling. Slide your hands down towards your feet to alleviate shoulder tension. Inhale as you relieve the weight on your head and lift the arms. Remember to turn your thumbs towards the ceiling to help open up the tight pectorals as you continue to drive your fingers towards your heels. Hold for a five count. Repeat 3-10 times every day. As groomers we bend forward every day so we need to extend every day. It is an antigravity exercise.
Next we want to think about our scapula (shoulder blade). Imagine your shoulder blades being like two cream pies on your back. If you have a tendency to round your shoulders or slump forward they would slide apart. They would move away from each other. If there were a rubber band attached between them it would stretch. That rubber band is known as our rhomboids and that is exactly why they tend to be weak. We should always try to create as much space and width as we can in the front of our chest when we sit. Try to open up the from tip of one shoulder in front to the tip of the other to prevent that rounding. Why is this important? Because our shoulder blades are responsible for about one third of our arm movement. That is huge! When they slide apart they can’t move effectively. We need our arms to work properly to groom. Below is one of the exercises I recommend to help strengthen the rhomboids.
Lying on your stomach place one fist under the forehead. Next reach the other out to the side like an airplane. Start with the hand that is out to the side being flat like you are slapping the floor. Next slide the hand towards your body just to set the shoulder into the socket. Inhale to prepare. Exhale as you lift the arm. Repeat 8-10x each side. This helps tighten up the rhomboids which are like that rubber band between the pies to keep the shoulder blades in place. As the muscle gets stronger or if that exercise is easy you can make it more challenging by simply turning your thumbs up toward the ceiling to open the shoulder a little more.
Always work in a pain free zone. If you can only comfortably go half way up that’s where we start. Trust your body. When we feel pain it is like a dummy light coming on in the dash of your car to tell you something is wrong. You have a choice. You can put a piece of tape over the light and ignore it but if you do that it is pretty certain that the problem is going to get worse. Matter of fact a problem that could have been fixed with a three-dollar can of oil can turn into irreparable damage.
Our bodies are kind of like that. A little maintenance goes a long way. We tend to accept pain as a way of life when there are so many things we can do to be pro-active. By the time I was thirty I couldn’t raise my arms overhead mostly because of the repetitive nature of our job. I thought pain would always be a way of life. I have been pain free for over twenty years using these types of exercise. Physiotherapy uses exercise to improve injury. The same type of exercise can be used to prevent injury. It’s your choice. I hope you choose to be The Healthy Groomer. ■