Farmers often come to me complaining of pain and fatigue between the shoulder blades. This is an especially important area for humans as the shoulders are the core of our arms, in a sense. It’s not surprising that they are a common area of complaint, just as the low back is a common area of complaint when our core muscles aren’t working at their best.
Humans are designed to have a mobile upper spine, and a stable lower spine and pelvis. In today’s society, this pattern often gets reversed. We end up having very stiff upper backs, and too much movement in our lower back and pelvis. Stiff upper spines result in changed breathing patterns (this is not good). Proper breathing mechanics are an excellent way to help loosen the upper spine. Here are two more exercises to add to your daily mobility practice:
- Cat-Cow Stretch: Start on all fours in a neutral spine position. With an INHALE let your chest drop towards the floor (think about dropping between the shoulder blades) as you look upwards. Try not to hinge too much in the lower back; focus this motion to the upper back. As you EXHALE, round up through the shoulders and press your upper spine towards the sky, let the head drop towards the ground and look towards your navel. Exhale completely and hold the exhale and this rounded stretch for a few seconds. Then, relax to neutral and start the process again. Dropping between the shoulder blades to rounding towards the sky (like a Halloween cat).
- T-Twist: Laying on your stomach, reach one arm out to the side at about a 90-degree angle to the shoulder. Using the other arm to press yourself up, roll on to the extended arm — lifting the opposing leg up and over for a twist through the body. Adjust the angle of the extended arm to suit the desired stretch, which should be felt through the arm (no pain or pinching!). If you do feel pain or pinching, adjust the angle of the arm downwards or decrease the amount of weight you’re rolling onto the arm by lowering down to the ground a bit. Breathe deeply and fully during this stretch.
A few other tips to avoid undue muscle tension anywhere in the body. Make sure you’re hydrating enough, regardless of the environment you are in. Whether you’re in hot or cold temperatures, our entire body depends on proper hydration to function. Mentally and physically we perform our best with at least three to four litres of water a day, and that’s before physical activity. Eating properly, of course, is also integral to physical and mental performance. If you’re working in extreme temperatures, make sure you’re supplementing electrolytes in your water to prevent undue dehydration, swelling, and fatigue. Electrolytes are found in drinks like Gatorade or Powerade, but I recommend avoiding the sugar by using electrolyte tablets that dissolve in your water sold at most sport stores and pharmacies. As always, check with your primary movement and health-care professional before starting any new supplements or exercise routines, or if you’re dealing with a new injury.