Shoulder, upper back, and neck tightness can be the most stubborn and complex cases of pain imaginable, and just when you are making progress they seem to transform into a multi-headed monster of discomfort and dysfunction.
What can we do about it?
Most of us are chronically stressed, desk bound and or working on the computer for the majority of the day which creates the perfect environment for pain and discomfort around the hips, lower back, upper back, and shoulders.
The first thing I tell my clients is to change shapes often.
The human body is very smart and constantly adapting to the positions it's put in throughout the day. Being in one position too long reshapes our connective tissue and muscle which creates the feeling of being 'locked' in one position—we are basically telling our body that this position is our new normal. As soon as we move out of that position, we feel stiff and achy. Top it off with stress and our bodies start to create various knots or trigger points in our soft tissue.
Trigger points or muscle “knots” are sensitive spots in muscle tissue and fascia. Fascia is a thin casing of connective tissue that surrounds and holds every organ, blood vessel, bone, nerve fiber and muscle in place. The tissue does more than provide internal structure; fascia has nerves that make it almost as sensitive as skin. When stressed, it tightens up. These achy spots are very common, often alarmingly fierce, and they seem to grow like weeds around injury.
Trigger point therapy or myofascial release is specifically designed to alleviate the source of the pain through cycles of isolated pressure and release. Most points occur because of overuse, trauma (injury), or psychological stress. Although no single factor is responsible for the development of trigger points, they often arise from sustained repetitive activities, like being in one position for an extended amount of time or working on a computer all day.
Myofascial release and trigger point therapy is a very important practice of daily self-care that I promote with my clients—especially those who have high-stress and or desk bound jobs. I feel amazing and every client I work with seems to feel a whole lot better post roll-out.
Myofascial release increases blood flow and helps to re-align tissue to create more efficient movement patterns and postural positions.
A daily 10 to 15 minute practice of releasing trigger points (combined with some mobility drills and changing shapes often) will do wonders in having you feel and function better.
How do I release trigger points?
All you need is a lacrosse ball, tennis ball, or golf ball (or you can use a foam roller).
It is important to note that the density of the ball or roller matters. If you are new to trigger point therapy, start with a tennis ball and work your way up to denser balls like a lacrosse or golf ball. Do not roll on the bone or joint itself! Focus on the tissues surrounding the joint.
Focus on these 4 areas and keep these tips in mind:
1️. Use a wall or the floor and slowly explore for tender "trigger points" in the 4 areas recommended. Use small 1 inch rolls instead of large "dough rolls".
2️. Once you find your trigger point either simply press on the point directly for at least 60 seconds or apply small kneading strokes—either circular or back/forth.
3️. You are trying to have a conversation with your nervous system, so you want to have the right tone: friendly and helpful. Not shouty and rude! The intensity of the treatment should be strong enough to satisfy, but easy to live with.
4️. Breathe! Holding your breathe with a cringed face is the exact opposite of what we want to do in order to calm down our nervous system and release tension from the tissues. Use long inhales and exhales – try to breathe the tension away. My clients often describe the feeling of the tissues "dissolving into sand" as it's being released.
Instead of taking aspirin or ibuprofen consistently for various aches and pains, which increase acid production within the stomach and the risk of developing stomach ulcers, try combining the use of myofascial release and a high-quality, organic topical CBD product. Studies show that CBD may decrease anxiety by calming down your amygdala, a part of your brain that controls fear and pain while also protecting neurons and tissue from inflammation, chronic joint pain, and oxidative damage. Because a CBD balm or slave doesn't need to be metabolized, a topical dosage is strong, reliable, and starts working quickly. When used directly, a CBD salve doesn't just alleviate pain, like a warm rub or a cooling menthol liniment, it actually fights inflammation at the source. Some topical products are also formulated with natural go-to pain relievers like arnica, peppermint, eucalyptus, and ginger that supplement the relief provided by CBD.
A year back, I dislocated the AC (acromioclavicular) joint of my shoulder and since then have had a lot of tightness around my shoulders, upper back, and chest. Using trigger point therapy and a topical CBD product has helped decrease inflammation, break up 'locked' fascial and muscle tissue, and has helped me get my shoulder range of motion and strength back to normal. I've personally found that using a topical CBD lotion before rolling helps to create the perfect calming environment for my nervous system and tissues so that I can really focus on releasing tension.
There are many possible causes of unexplained aches and pains, but trigger points and myofascial system are an interesting piece of the puzzle for many people, and offer potential for relief. Remember, although releasing trigger points may have a huge impact on relieving pain, it is not the only piece to the puzzle. It will take a systematic and consistent approach including a combination of myofascial release, mobility training, and strength training. Stay tuned for more specific information on proper mobility training and strength training for the shoulders in future post. But for now I will leave you with this daily mobility sequence. Enjoy!