Ever catch yourself leaning forward while you stare at your computer display You’re back is curved, your shoulders rounded, your chin jutted out and your arms curled up like some kind of high-tech T-Rex? Welcome to “hunched shoulder” posture. Hunched shoulders, sometimes called “rolled shoulders” are very common, especially among office workers, and are a major contributor to the 80% of Americans that experience back pain at some time.
How you get hunched shoulders
Usually, a forward shoulder posture comes from incorrect posture while sitting for long periods of time. In today’s world, that likely means hunching (literally) over a keyboard all day. Incorrect posture while sitting is very dependent on the type and height of your chair, the height of your keyboard, and the height and position of your computer screen. There IS a ‘wrong way’ to sit.
In bodybuilders, roller over shoulders and a hunched posture can result from muscular imbalance. Those huge pecs they worked hard to develop are stronger than their bulked up back muscles and it pulls everything forward and rounds the shoulders. Reducing pec exercise and doing “reverse flys” and “bend over shrugs can help develop the antagonist muscles and reduce the pulled forward posture.
Why hunched shoulders aren’t good for you
When your shoulders are hunched, your posture causes your head to bear more weight because it is thrust forward. Since you average head weighs about 10lbs, moving it forward, even a little, can cause the redistribution of weight, which causes muscles to compensate. Back muscles, neck muscles, chest muscles, and shoulder muscles all are stressed and respond by trying to keep balance, even if they have to maintain a less efficient position.
All this tension around your neck can have other side effects–everything from headaches, joint pain, or even nerve damage.
If your hunched posture lasts a long time, you risk early spinal degeneration, as bones, cartilage and joints all try to compensate. That degeneration is irreversible and can make the difference between you sitting up straight when you’re older, or peering through the steering wheel because you’re so hunched over you can’t see over it.
Sometimes the hunched posture, especially if it is severe, can actually cause your pulmonary cavity (aka chest) to compress, resulting in less room for your lungs to fill with air. THAT slows down every, including your metabolic rate, how well you focus, and how productive you are.
Visually, hunched shoulders can cause your belly to stick out more, adding about 10 pounds to your perceived weight. Yuck.
Lots of reasons to fix those hunched shoulders, right?
Three steps to better shoulder posture
The most important thing is to focus on your posture and start correcting it NOW. You can do that by a combination of stretching exercises, work breaks and manual therapy.
1. Stretch and exercise
Stretching (lengthening) muscles and taking care to develop the muscles that are weakest will help correct your posture. Here are three super-easy activities you can try at home or at the office. You will feel better and over time, posture will rebalance.
This simple stretch is all about lengthening pec muscles and stretching shoulder muscles. Try it at least 3 times a day:
- Stand up straight, reach both hands behind you and clasp them together at the base of your low back. Then gently push your hands toward the floor. Your shoulders will automatically “square” and your chest will expand as you do so.
- Take five slow, deep breaths and push your hands a bit further down with each inhale. Even if you can’t actually reach further down or move only the tiniest amount, try to push your hands toward the floor anyway for a better stretch.
- After five breaths, relax, release your hands and raise your arms above your head for 2 breaths, then relax. You’re done!
The shoulder blade squeeze
When shoulders hunch, the muscles that stabilize the shoulder — like the rhomboids and mid-trapezius muscles — become weaker over time.
Make believe you’re holding a small beach ball between your shoulder blades (scapulae) and squeeze it by bringing the shoulder blades (scapula) down and together. Hold for 10 seconds. Repeat. Do this at least twice a day.
The basic plank
A stronger core, and the muscles that hold it strong, protect your spine and hold your posture. Working those muscles “naturally” aligns your posture, including your upper spine and shoulders.
Get on the floor in a push-up position, with your arms straight. Imagine a straight line from your legs through your torso to your neck. Don’t sag or lift your butt. If your shoulders are tensed toward your neck, roll them open. Hold for up to a minute, if you can, if not, work up to it. Planking has many benefits, including keeping that belly from protruding, adding to postural imbalance.
2. Take breaks.
There’s a reason you’ve heard this tip a lot, because taking frequent, quick, breaks really has a profound effect on you physically and mentally. So GET UP, walk to the restroom or water cooler, and concentrate on aligning your frame–meaning your heels, knees, pelvis and neck are stacked on top of each other–and then return to a proper seated position. This doesn’t have to take long, but it’s really important to do. You’ll find other benefits, like renewed focus and less fatigue, too. There’s an app to remind you to do this, of course.
3. Get a massage
Soft tissue manipulation during a massage can help relax and realign muscle tissue and helps your body “remember” what a normal posture can feel like. Massage sessions will include, but not be limited to, massage techniques on the “lats”, serrates posterior superior, subscapularis and rotator cuff muscles, stimulating massage to mid back, join play on hypomobile ribs, trigger point work, myofascial release, Swedish techniques, muscle stripping, ischemic compressions, and neuromuscular therapy. Don’t worry if you can’t identify these techniques, your massage therapist is well versed and knows what to do.
It takes years to develop serious slouched or hunched shoulder posture, so you shouldn’t be surprised that it takes a bit of time to correct that posture. Luckily, it’s not going to take years! Fact is, the sooner you start improving your posture, the sooner you’ll see results. Stop what you’re doing right now and perform a set of these exercises. Then book an appointment with a qualified massage therapist and let them know your postural concerns. They’ll design a program that, along with the tips above, can speed your return to better posture.