In my last post, I discussed the common causes of issues with the primary shoulder shrugging muscle, the levator scapula. If you do suffer from upper back/shoulder/neck tension, try one of these muscle pain treatment techniques to address the tension and asymmetry that can manifest from daily stressors or your instrument of choice. Whether or not you’re a musician, any one-sided activity, including carrying purses and bags, can create asymmetry in the levator scapula.
Observation and retraining: For upper string players, working with an Alexander Technique teacher, Feldenkrais teacher, body mapping instructor, or other somatic practitioner can help one find more freedom with one’s instrument, but also tweak the setup to better suit the individual’s body. There are a myriad of ergonomic products being developed to improve instrumental setup and alignment for all musicians.
Roll it out!: My favorite rolling sequence involves self massage of the levator scapula, one at a time, coupled with general upper back rolling, trapezius, and neck treatment. Here’s a great video of Jill Miller and Dr. Kelly Starret demonstrating the Neck Gnar, which is a guaranteed way to handle upper neck/shoulder tension.
Neck release: Make sure that you’re bringing your neck through a wide range of motions, especially if you play an asymmetrical instrument. Neck circles can help, as well as neck flexion coupled with rotation at different angles. Here, Jill demonstrates a sequence that is excellent for all musicians and people who carry bags and purses over one shoulder!
Shoulder shrugs: Bringing the shoulders up towards the ears, squeezing them together, and then drawing the shoulders back and down can be a great way to restore your natural scapular movement. Hold for 10-20 seconds before slowly releasing.
Self-examination: What are your habits? Do you carry a one sided purse or case? How can you change your setup? Can you carry less music or bring a light bag with you? Do you hold your phone with your shoulder? Do you always sleep on one side of the body or flex the head and neck while sleeping? If you’re a musician, consider videotaping yourself playing or practicing to get an idea of what your tendencies are.
Remember that when changing movement habits, your body may need time to adapt to a new setup, case strap situation, or chin rest! Gradual change trumps extreme changes every time!