Confession: I’m a shoulder cracker.
Since high school, when I was a cheerleader and dancer with an imperfect back handspring, I’ve ritualistically popped my right shoulder constantly. It’s as much a part of my normal life as the slight space between my front teeth and the way my hair parts where it wants to, regardless of my opinion. (And if I’m really spilling the beans, I crack my wrists and ankles too, but the shoulder is the obsessive one.)
I suppose it always hurts, that I’m always in pain at a low level.
Over time, though, like that slightly annoying traffic noise when you live in a metro area, it becomes simply part of the landscape – the “new normal.” It’s there, but the baseline has been reset to zero at this pain level so I barely notice it.
I sat down the other day feeling like I needed to stretch, and realized with some great alarm that I have lost a lot of flexibility in the past few years. I was always able to retain a certain amount and enjoy the feeling of stretching into a stride, but this week it was more like getting a rusty old bike out of the shed and wincing at the nails-on-a-blackboard sound the hinges make.
I blame blogger butt.
I’ve definitely been spending more time sitting at a desk this year than any other, and I’m paying for it. Particularly as I’ve worked on the much-anticipated Kids Cook Real Food eCourse, the hours in an uncomfortable chair are taking its toll.
Once it’s finally launched next week, I need to set some goals that include movement, or I’m going to cause some real problems physically for myself.
Et Tu, Brute?
How about you? What hurts?
What has always been a problem for you, so much so that it fades into the background of consciousness, a seeming blessing but really a dangerous disguise?
Background pain tricks you into ignoring it, so you don’t address it, don’t try to fix it, and possibly exacerbate it because of your actions or lifestyle.
This can happen with both systemic digestive malfunction (it’s my theory that most Americans are functioning constantly at a low level – or worse – of stomach pain) and physical joint pain. I wrote about key steps to gut healing back in September, so definitely check that out for some baby steps (ahem, 101 of them) for any chronic digestive issues.
Today I’ll share some of the movement goals I’m setting up for myself for January, and since that month is kind of, um, #understatement, a big time for others to restart their healthy goals, perhaps you’ll find something helpful too.
I was drawn to the eBook Live Pain Free by Robin Konie for obvious reasons, She’s a Registered Somatic Movement Therapist and Certified Laban/Bartenieff Movement Analyst and has a master’s degree in modern dance. She used all those skills to compile 60 movement exercises, many of which can be done in a chair at your desk, to specifically target and eradicate chronic pain, especially that which is caused by a sedentary lifestyle.
I wish I could just copy the whole first section for you, an introduction to pain – why we experience and need pain, conventional pain treatments, and how movement can help address pain. So. Good.
Highlights of Pain
- “Excess tension is one of the biggest culprits to pain…usually a result of injury, skeletal alignment problems, muscular imbalances, or emotional stress.”
- “The body was designed to move…[not] sit in chairs, stare at computers, or wear high heels.”
- We ignore our body’s pain signals too often and see exercise as something to do 30 minutes at a time for the purpose of burning calories. Konie wants us to understand movement for a pain-free life: “simple and repeatable movement patterns designed to reestablish your body’s full movement and pain-free potential.”
- “Developmental patterns are fundamental to efficient and coordinated movement.”
- “Movement can be an amazing tool for correcting bad posture, increasing range of motion, and improving all the other systems of the body. It can also enhance your mood and energy. Keep in mind that while it can do all of these things, it can also make things worse if done mindlessly. In other words, when you commit to doing these exercises, do them with full intent. Turn off the TV, silence your phone, and give yourself some space to listen to your body.”
Live Pain Free includes movement sequences specifically to target the following:
- Shoulder/Neck Tension
- Upper Back Pain
- Lower Back Pain
- Overall Back Pain
- Tight Hips
- Carpel Tunnel
- Lack of Energy
Where to start?
10 Simple Movements to Address Chronic Pain
I’m grabbing one exercise from each of Konie’s six chapters plus a few from other videos that should support my quest to escape – or at least improve – chronic joint pain.
1. Shoulder Release (Calming Chapter)
Tips: Each time you let your shoulders drop, notice the release of tension in your neck. Be conscious of the difference. Repeat 3-5 times; it only takes a minute or two and can be done at a desk.
2. Core Wake Up (Centering Chapter)
This “go to” move will reinvigorate your body and bring attention to your core. You can do it while sitting, although it’s best done standing.
The Core Wake Up is on the “lack of energy” exercise sequence and should be done for 30-60 seconds.
3. Body Jiggle (Enlivening Chapter)
Recommended for overall energy boost, this exercise is so easy to do anywhere, anytime – with the exception, perhaps, of when someone else is watching you.
The goal is to get the synovial fluids – a viscous fluid that reduces cartilage friction in certain joints – moving in your body.
To do the body jiggle, “stand up tall and take a deep breath. Beginning with your hands, wrists, and arms gently and quickly begin to shake and jiggle. Then jiggle the feet, ankles and legs. Finally, get the torso and shoulders involved. Just relax, smiles, and enjoy the silliness of it all – shake, shake, shake.”
4. Walking with Purpose (Strengthening Chapter)
My son’s first grade teacher taught them to “walk with a purpose,” meaning simply to hurry up, which I much appreciated. This walking exercise is designed to bring more awareness to your posture and range of motion.
As you take a little walk, ask yourself these questions:
- How does your spine feel as you walk?
- What is leading? Head? Shoulders? Feet? Pelvis?
- Do you feel your leg swing in front of you from the hip joint or does the outer side of your hip lift up?
- What part of your foot is contacting the floor as you walk?
Take a brief moment to tune into your breath and consider the following suggestions as you walk:
- Let your pelvis be the driving force. It’s not in front of the rest of the body, but it is the power source for what “gets you going.” Don’t let your head, chest, or feet try to pull you forward.
- Move through your entire foot as you walk
- Release the outside of your hip, keeping the leg swinging from the hip joint.
- Keep your spine enlivened, tall, and free instead of rigid or passive.
- As always, breathe.
- Shoes can inhibit movement and instigate tension.
5. Body Half Stretch (Stabilizing/Mobilizing Chapter)
No office chair for this one! Get right on the ground for this energizing stretch that will increase blood circulation. I’m going to do this one when I need to be able to focus more and I’m getting sleepy!
6. Desk Chair Spiral (Adapting Chapter)
Adapting, according to Robin Konie, can be applied from movement to our relationships and lives. So we should practice being responsive, adaptive and creative in our movements. This final chapter focuses on Cross-Lateral patterning, a more complex sort of “three-dimensional” moving than many exercises. They include lots of bending, twisting, cross-body arms and rotating.
Whenever your posture starts to feel “stale” you can do this quickly on both sides right at your desk. Repeat a few times.n
Stand or sit up nice and tall. Take a deep breath. Let your eyes begin to move to the riht and allow your spine to follow. Keep moving until you have spiraled your spine as far as you can comfortably go. Hold and take a few deep breaths. Try to keep the torso soft but tall. Slowly return to the front. Repeat other side.
Core Focus – from Fit2B
Fit2B is a membership site with videos and information specifically for those struggling with diastasis recti or core strength – all exercises are “TummySafe” moves to prevent abdominal trauma and restore function, strengthening the core and redefining waistlines from the inside out.
Core strength and recovery from childbirth is critical to escaping chronic back and shoulder pain, so these videos fit perfectly with my focus for you today. I’ll just share the first two exercises which you can practice to gain awareness of your own core, the tip of the iceberg of strengthening.
7. Zip Up Your Core
In the basics video of this series, we’ll learn how to focus on our core.
“We don’t need more intense workouts, we need more basic workouts…if we want to get the world off the couch, sometimes we have to start on the couch – sitting.” –Beth Learn of Fit2B
- Sit with your feet flat, sitting correctly: on sitz bones, pubic bone lined up with hip bones. Your rib bowl should be over your hip bowl.
- Put one hand on your stomach, one hand on chest.
- Inhale and relax, exhale, drawing navel in.
- Catch positive thoughts and try to rethink how you view your body – if you’re a mom, your core has done a lot of great work for you and yours! We’ll work the transverse muscles, the “corset” that goes around your body.
- Imagine a figure 8 on your chair with the center underneath you, and try to lift the center of that 8 up as you exhale, which will cause your core to automatically tighten as well. Think of it like a zipper: unzip the zipper on inhale and zip everything up from the bottom up (without tensing or collapsing your shoulders) on exhale.
- This is the first baby step, finding your core, to draw your navel in on exhale, and to relax your belly. Add a gentle triple pulse of your belly pulling inward at the end of the exhale and zipping up – try to confine all your energy in the center of your core/belly.
That’s it! If you can consciously give your core some attention throughout the day, it will gradually get stronger. Better yet, do more gentle exercises to help it along.
8. Crunch-Free Transverse Toning
We’re working on strengthening the transverse muscle, the one going all the way around your middle – your natural girdle! If it’s stronger, your waist size can get smaller.
“You can do the exercises while sitting or standing. It’s a kid-friendly, mom-friendly, dad-friendly, grandma and grandpa-friendly, pregnant-friendly workout that will truly start to tone your tummy from the inside out!”
Here are the steps:
- Bring your attention – mind-body connection – to your belly button.
- Take a deep breath and expand with air, and then hold everything in on exhale (for a count of 10, a few breaths).
- Pulse the transverse muscle inward a few times. You might feel that at the lower back because the muscle goes way back there.
- Put hands on hips and breathe out, pulling everything in.
- Shift your ribcage to the left, then middle, then right. Breathe out when your ribcage goes left or right, pulling the navel inward (and feeling it in the obliques). Inhale and relax when you bring the rib cage to center.
- Release your spine by swinging your arms gently around your body.
- Do some calf raises, breathing out and pulling the muscle inward when you’re up in the air and inhaling and relaxing on the way down. Be careful not to thrust your ribs or pelvis forward; stay perfectly straight.
- Make small circles from back to front with your leg pointing outward, pulling the abdominal wall in with each circle. The foot does not go any higher than the knee. (Repeat on the other side.)
- Do some gentle squats while pulling the abdominal wall in. Exhale on down, inhale on up. Should be able to both see your toes and lift them up and keep your balance when you’re in the squat.
- Hold a squat and make large arm circles back to front while exhaling each time, pulling the transverse muscle in each time.
- Long pulsing session, sit or stand. Deep breath in, exhale out, trying to pull your belly button so far in that it nearly touches your spine. Then pulse the transverse muscle five times and hold it in for a count of 5 while you inhale, then repeat.
Beth has many more little details that you’ll want to get access to the videos to understand, but that’s about a 9-minute session on one very important muscle that keeps everything else in line!
Healthy Moving Core Workshop
The Healthy Moving Core Workshop by Jennifer Hoffman:
Learn what makes up a healthy core and how to get one, including a discussion of core injuries such as diastasis recti or hernia and a plan for progression from beginner to advanced.
The basics of the Healthy Moving lessons start with an easy-to-read PDF download and this advice:
“Begin by taking five ‘healthy moving breaks’ each day. Choose one of the following exercises to focus on each day or cycle through several of them in one day. It is most helpful if you spread your movement throughout the day, rather than packing it all into one session.”
Here are the first two!
9. Psoas Release
10. Modified Forward Bend
The Healthy Core Plan also includes at level one:
- how to eliminate thrust (for the pelvis and ribs)
- breath mechanics (to reduce shoulder tension)
- table core activation (for the transverse muscles, like Fit2B’s goal above, critical to core and back health)
- a twist pose to release tight oblique muscles
After you are comfortable with level one exercises, there are level 2 and 3 exercises to achieve the same core improvements at increasing efficiency.
A healthy core will give your body the foundation it needs to have healthy posture, which should reduce your overall aches and pain and make movement, any movement, more of a joy.
While I haven’t personally used T-Tapp, the stories from those that have are truly inspiring. It’s a gentle workout that still gets your heart moving, and people say it helps to relieve chronic pain. Contributor Bethany shares why you may be exercising too much and how T-Tapp can change that. They are also a big proponent of body brushing, which is something that still interests me to try!
Here is more great insight into why posture is so important for your health!