To Stretch or not to stretch…

We all know stretching can help maintain flexibility, but is it the best thing to do immediately before an athletic activity?  Current research suggests no.  Literature has shown that passive static stretching to lower body musculature actually decreases strength and stability.  Instead, warm up with active, dynamic, light resistive movements.  For a dynamic activity to help lengthen hamstrings click below…

In search of Monkey Bars

monkey bars

Pects and Lats.  For some reason I left PT school thinking the former moved your arm toward your chest and the latter helped you wipe yourself.  Certainly functional, but not very exciting.  Oh, and by the way they seem to get tight and keep shoulders in a forward rounded position-quite inconvenient.  Then recently, I was in a Thomas Myer’s class on fascia and the instructor was going over the functional anatomy of these two muscles.  They both do this funny little twist before they insert on the arm bone when it’s at your side.  Weird thing for a muscle to do that’s trying to pull and exert force.

pect twist

But…!  when the arm is raised overhead that twist unwinds in each of the muscles and the true glory of the pectoralis major and latissimus dorsi is beheld.  They are strong broad muscles that connect the upper limb to the axial skeleton across many vertebral levels!

pec maj overhead
lat arm up

They’re designed to pull your body along with the arm, not the other way around.  Think monkey in a tree if you’re open to evolutionary biology.  These muscles want you to hang, they’re begging to swing on a bar, they’re aching to do a pull up!  The bad news for many of us is that we either never do that, or by the time we do wander into a climbing gym, or a crossfit fit gym and try to use these muscles to their fullest glory, the joints between the arm and the spine betray us.  Years of schooling, and working, and tv watching, and driving, and texting, and all of our other modern habits leave us with a glenohumeral/shoulder joint and scapula/shoulderblade in such poor alignment that performing overhead activities creates strain across our shoulder leading to tendonitis’s, rotator cuff tears, biceps tendon ruptures, labral tears-you get the idea.  Is there any hope?  I believe so, but it may take some time, devotion, and a little help.  Regular stretching/mobility activities to allow for proper alignment, combined with strengthening for the scapular stabilizers is important for anyone trying to hang without pain.  It’s also important if you want a healthy shoulder that lasts into the golden years and allow even simple overhead tasks like placing a plate on the top cabinet shelf or into the arm of a coat!  If you’re struggling with overhead activities, I recommend finding a good physical therapist to assess your individual limitations and create a plan to meet your personal goals for your pects and lats.  It’s not always easy to free your body to do what it likes to do, but it’s often well worth it!

Belay Neck

Prior to living in the western slope of Colorado, I thought rock climbing was a myth created by advertisers to make me feel like I was not adventurous enough.  Turns out it’s no myth.  The rock climbers are real!  Turns out they’re in western North Carolina too!  What an amazing physical and mental challenge rock climbing affords to its participants. There are so many benefits to this activity: being outdoors, working together with others, activity and exercise.  If you’re belaying, the activity can take a toll on your neck though.  Any postural position held for long periods of time, particularly at end range, can cause pain, discomfort, even degeneration.  Belay neck is the opposite of “text neck”.  Looking at our phones keeps our neck flexed, while belaying can place the neck in extreme extension.  Why is this a problem? It can cause increased compression forces on the discs and joints in the neck as well as decreasing blood flow to local tissues including nerves.  This is what can lead to pain and degeneration.  Fortunately, there are some pretty nifty glasses designed to allow the belayer to see what’s above them while looking forward.  If I were a regular climber, I would think seriously about investing in these.

belay neck

There are some other things that belayers and quite frankly all of us can do to help keep our necks healthy.  Even if you’re not frequently looking up to the sky as a climber ascends, almost all of us sit at a computer during the day and end up slumped in our thoracic spine and extended in our cervical spine.  One important goal is gaining and maintaining thoracic spine mobility, particularly in the mid and upper region of the back.  In an efficient state, spinal motion is translated throughout the spine.  When you look up, not only should your neck bend back, but your trunk should as well.  This allows for the movement to be shared among vertebrae and decrease load and compression at any one joint.  Unfortunately for most of us, our lifestyles have created a posture of somewhat rigid trunks.  Climbing techniques including compression climbing may contribute to this stiffness in the trunk as well.  Exercises designed to stretch the chest and extend the trunk, as well as neck exercises to strengthen the short neck flexors of the neck may assist in decreasing the load in the belayer’s neck when looking up.  A bit of prevention and maintenance can go a long way toward preventing neck pain!