Chronic Neck and Shoulder Pain Linked to Diminished Lung Capacity.

Did you know that most people who suffer from chronic neck and shoulder pain only use one-quarter of their lung capacity? Yamuna Zake and Stephanie Golden, authors of “Body Rolling: An Experiential Approach to Complete Muscle Release” state that “If the lungs are not expanded to at least 50%…there will be restriction throughout the torso. Many people who suffer from chronic neck and shoulder problems do not understand how much these problems are related to lack of mobility in the torso-you cannot get full length through the neck if your thoracic cage is restricted.”  Due to this restriction adequate breathe is achieved by lifting the shoulders which in turn creates neck and shoulder problems from overuse.

But what causes this restriction in the first place? It all stems from these or other related issues:

  • Underuse of the thoracic area
  • Muscle cell atrophy
  • “Gluing down” of conective tissue
  • Skeletal imbalances
  • Restriction from injuries

Thoracic cage restriction is usually brought on by habits, work-related musculoskeletal disorders, injuries and otherwise.  This “gluing” down doesn’t happen overnight.  We may not notice our restricted breathing but we will notice pain brought on by our compensating behaviors, such as raising the shoulders for larger breath.  This, over time, can lead to neck pain, shoulder pain and headaches.

As humans we are inherently lazy creatures. (At a subconcious level of course!) Our bodies will only put forth effort into keeping parts of the body used on a REGULAR basis viable.  If the rib cage, spine, chest, abdominals are not moved AWAY from the center of the body on a regular basis, they become compressed, limiting lung space. And we need all the lung space we can get!  Oxygen keeps our blood flowing for increased energy, better digestion and reduction of anxiety!

In an effort to decompress the lungs for more breath and pain relief, here are some things to keep in mind:

Work the spine in all directions.

Forwards, backwards, twisting, lateral bends.  Move as our bodies were intended to move, DAILY! Here are some examples to work into the spine, abdominals, chest and shoulders.

Front to Back: Alternate between tailbone tucked under and upper back rounded, shoulders rolling in (Figure 1.1) to tailbone pulled back, arms behind and chest open. (Figure 1.2).  Gently perform these movements several times alternating sides.


Figure 1.1                                      Figure 1.2

Side to Side Lateral side bend with chair.  Hold on to the back of a stable chair.  Opposite arm up in the air-keeping the shoulder relaxed.   Breathe in and as you exhale, shoulder square, lean over the back of the chair pushing the rib cage out and up to the ceiling. (Figure 2).

Figure 2  Lateral Side Bend with Chair
  • Work the rib cage in all directions.

We tend to think the lungs are just in the front. It’s important to remember to expand to the front, sides and back of the rib cage.

  • Increase length in the abdominals and spine.

Our trademarked Neutral Elongation and Ceiling Reaches are great for liberating the abdominals, which in turn liberate the spine and rib cage. (Figure 3)

Neutral Elongation: Take 2 arms up in the air taking care not to push forward into your thighs.  Pull upwards using the ribcage and the abdominals.  It is important not to use the shoulders when reaching upwards but rather keeping them relaxed and away from your ears. (Figure 3)

Ceiling Reaches use the same stance as the neutral elongation but alternate one arm to the ceiling, pushing the rib cage out to the side wall when reaching, then alternate arms. (Figure 4)


(Figure 3)                                         (Figure 4)

Relieve stress in shoulders and neck.  If you do not have trouble with orthostatic hypotension (extreme dizziness going from bending over to standing position) try:

Zombies: Roll down one vertebra at at time, bending your knees and tucking under your tailbone.  Sway from side to side, relaxing shoulders, neck and jaw. Take in a deep breath to expand your “back” lungs then alternate droping fists to the floor (Figure 4). You should feel a pull alternating from the left to the right side of the lower back. Keep your

Figure 5 Zombie

shoulders relaxed as much as possible then draw circles with your fists above the floor, going both directions then switch arms.  This will liberate the shoulder joints.

Finally, bend your knees, tuck under the tailbone and roll up one vertebra at a time until your head is upright.  You may get a head rush so take your time to let the blood settle.  When upright, take a deep breath and roll your head down your chest from side to side, very slowly as you exhale.  You may roll your head back but DO NOT tilt so far back that you compress the cervical vertebra in the neck.


These simple exercises, along with a keen body awarness about your every day postures, can really help increase lung capacity to reduce neck and shoulder pain!  Keep me posted on your progress!

All exercises described here are property of Essentrics®.  For more information, please go to




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