After receiving an acupuncture treatment for their neck and shoulders, many patients ask what they can do at home to help alleviate their conditions. My response to that question is ‘Ever watch a football game and noticed the referee lifting both arms when a touchdown is scored? Did you know that simple maneuver can help improve your posture and increase the flexibility of your neck and shoulders?’ Before we discuss on how to do a touchdown for your health, let us examine why this motion is very important.
Experiencing Stiffness and Soreness in the Neck and Shoulders?
One of the common areas where people often complain about having ‘stiffness’, ‘soreness’, or ‘discomfort’ is the neck/shoulder regions. Many people attribute improper posture/ positioning while working at a desk, previous injuries, or the use of an incorrect pillow when sleeping as examples as the cause of this problem. The major muscle involved in this condition is the trapezius.
Most people think the trapezius muscle only applies to the muscles on top of the shoulders. But did you know that there are actually three trapezius muscles? They are appropriately named upper, middle, and lower. They begin at base of the skull travelling down to the upper/ middle portion of the spine and laterally to the back of the shoulder joint. The trapezius muscle, in an essence, controls the posture and positioning of the head, upper back, and shoulders.
The trapezius muscle commonly gets stiff and tight when the head is in a flexed position. With the human head weighing approximately 8 to 10 lbs., when it is constantly tilted forward, the trapezius muscle becomes over- stretched and starts to ‘stiffen up’ when it is ‘hunched’ forward. The ‘hunched’ position creates limited joint spaces within the neck and shoulder which restricts ranges of motion. Once the muscle loses its natural flexibility, it can lead to chronic muscular and neurological problems of the head, neck, and the shoulder such as chronic pain, disc problems in the neck and mid- back, migraines/ headaches, visual problems, jaw pain, etc...
If the trapezius muscles are loose and flexible, this allows the neck and shoulder to move more freely. It also provides enough movement and strength for a person to maintain an upright posture. With the feeling of ‘stiff and tight’ being relieved at this region, it can put a person’s mood and mindset at a more relaxed states without having the stress of having ‘the weight of the world on their shoulders’.
The Touchdown Move!
So how do we maintain a loose and flexible trapezius muscle? By following this simple exercise called the ‘Touchdown Motion’ daily can certainly help maintain your neck and shoulders to feel less burdened. First, maintain a straight posture of the body with the head stationed at its natural, neutral position. If the head is flexed or tilted forward, it is very difficult to attain a full range of motion of the shoulders. If you are having difficulty keeping your head at neutral position, for the time being try and maintain it as close to it as possible. With your arms full extended in front of you, raise both arms in unison forward and upward above your head. Do not brings your arms up in any ‘sideway’ position. Once your hands have reached over your head (like a touchdown motion), bring your arms down slowly in the same arc as you brought your arms up. Again, bring the arms down straight in front of you and not to the side.
The key to doing these exercises is never about speed. The initial focus should be on doing the exercise properly, using the correct forms. It is also important to breath. Inhale slowly when raising your arms and once you reached your peak, slowly breathe out as you are lowering your arms. The use of weights, such as dumbbells, is not necessary nor advised. Simply do not use any weights because it can compromise proper body forms. Think of this exercise as more of a stretch.
It is advised that doing a 100 of these motions daily will help loosen your trapezius muscle. Completing 100 of this exercise daily, which takes less than 2 minutes, will engage all three of the trapezius muscles in full flexion and extension motion to help maintain its flexibility. If the doing exercise at any point becomes too difficult to do, please stop immediately and do not exert yourself for further injuries. While ideally doing a 100 of these on daily basis will yield the best results, the number is only a suggestion. Again, the emphasis is not about speed but doing it with the proper form.