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Slumping shoulders?

September 13, 2010 | Articles & Interviews

Therapy noodles could help you keep your height as you age

By Gary Shaw

A few years ago I developed a bad neck problem. My son and I had been working on his house seven days a week for nearly a year. Mostly I was painting or staining wood along with some hammering and nailing. All this time I was using my right arm extensively.

I began having an annoying pain in the left side of my neck/head. It was bad in the evening, especially when there was any stress. I was fearful of some kind of blockage in a vein or artery, but the doctor dispelled that. My first insight came from a therapist who gave me a massage in Eureka Springs, AR. She observed that while my right shoulder was easily manipulated my left shoulder could not be manipulated in a certain way: it was “frozen” (This was not obvious to me as the “freezing” was somehow related to the shoulder/ribs linkages).

Back in Tofino, British Columbia, where I live, I visited with a very good physical therapist. She confirmed the problem much the same way as the massage therapist described it. This is a condition people who use one arm extensively (grading papers, writing, holding a book, painting, hammering nails, etc.) likely will develop. The one arm is moving fluidly, the other arm mostly is rigid. The physical consequence is a tightening of the fascia (connective tissue) on the side, which is not being used. The tissues actually grow into their relationship and, thus, cannot be stretched and expanded. And over time, the situation deteriorates further.

The same thing happens as a person matures and gravity pulls the shoulders forward, a problem many people develop as they age. Over time the body evolves physically in such a way as to make pulling the shoulders up impossible. The body literally grows into the shape in which it is being used.
My physical therapist gave me an exercise to gradually remedy my situation. It was simple. She instructed me to lie, for 5 to 10 minutes each day, on a rolled-up towel aligned along my spinal column from the back of my head to mid-back with my arms relaxed at 90 degrees from my body. I used a towel initially and then replaced it with a yoga bolster (about two feet by eight inches). What this does is let gravity gradually bring the shoulders back to their structurally appropriate position and, thus, to put the body back into a healthy form.

She promised me that this would gradually eliminate my discomfort. And she promised me this would keep 1 to 2 inches of my height, which deteriorates as the body slumps, and this would keep my shoulders from slumping.

After several months of this therapy, my symptoms did disappear, and it feels like I am walking more upright. I will continue using the bolster for the rest of my life (I let my use of it slide for a couple of months, and the symptoms returned). This therapy is a life commitment, as the problem it addresses has become part of my physiology.

My experience might suggest another kind of therapy that the therapy noodles can provide, one which will assist all folks who are experiencing slumping shoulders as they age. This could help folks who want to maintain their upright carriage; and folks whose daily activities cause them to use one of their arms much more extensively than the other.

The therapy worked. And given how common this problem is because of gravity and occupation, I think it could help a lot of people.

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