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Rounded Shoulders?

Rounded Shoulders?

Billy Pratt, BA, CPT, PAS, GIPS, CFMSP

How many hours a day sitting at a computer or leaning over a phone/computer/book would you estimate you spend per day?  I have heard estimates ranging from 8-13 hours a day for the average American.  Regardless what the precise average number is, that is a long time for us to spend sitting and hunched forward, especially since for the vast, vast majority of history as homo sapiens we have not survived by sitting and working at a desk for so many hours a day, day after day, year after year.  Now for those of you who estimate that you do spend a minimum of 8 hours/day sitting and focusing on something right in the front of you, how does your posture look?  If you stand by a mirror and look sideways at yourself are your ears directly over your shoulders or more forward?  Do your shoulders naturally sit in a straight line over your hips or are they further forward?  If you draw an imaginary line from your ears to your ankles is it vertical or slanted?  If it’s slanted then you very likely have “rounded shoulders”. 

Why is this a big deal?  Shoulders that “round forward” tend to open them and the rest of your body to a greater risk of injury.  Impingement syndrome (where tissue is impinged within a narrowed space) is much more prevalent with those who lack proper alignment, neck strains are more common as the weight of the head creates more of a shear force to the cervical spine, low back & hip issues can occur as they adjust their workload & alignment to compensate for a rounded upper back, the list goes on.  So what can one do for this?

Rounded shoulders aren’t usually just a “shoulder issue”.  The shoulders sit off the spine so any roundedness must come with a rounded spine.  There are three primary curves to the spine (cervical, thoracic, lumbar) and usually it is to the thoracic or mid-spine that we have to look.  Getting the thoracic spine into extension is very helpful and there are many ways of helping to do that.  One of the ones I like to use (I actually do this before every one of my workouts) utilizes a foam roller.  Sitting on the floor with the roller laying crosswise behind you, lean back until the roller makes contact with the lower part of your shoulder blades.  Place your hands behind the head and point the elbows forward.  Take a deep breath in and while keeping your hips on the floor, exhale as you lean back so your back arches over the roller.   Slowly return to starting position, roll the roller up a couple of inches so it is now sitting on the middle of your shoulder blades and repeat the breathing and stretching cycle.  Roll again so it is sitting towards the top of your shoulder blades (not your neck!) and repeat.  Now return to the lower-shoulder blade position, pull your elbows back as far as they can go and repeat the three positions. 

If you’re feeling particularly tight you can repeat this more than once, but the key is to get your thoracic spine out of flexion and into extension.  Repeat this every day (multiple times a day if you feel like you need to).  Will this fix the roundedness?  It will definitely help but whether or not this does the trick depends on a lot of other factors.  Remember: You can't fight a lifestyle.  Postural issues require making the appropriate lifestyle changes.  If you need more guidance or are unsure about this, check with a movement specialist (fitness coach with posture & movement specialties, therapist, etc.) to learn how to do this properly.

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