by Jill Miller
My husband’s shoulder started hurting him a few months ago. At first it would come and go. Then it started aching and burning at night, so much that he couldn’t sleep on his side. I suggested lots of exercises to help strengthen his shoulder (which, to my dismay, he did not practice), and he regularly used his Yoga Tune Up Balls for self-massage, but he was still in pain.
His shoulder pain affected me too, as he tossed and turned at night, disturbing my sleep. His pain altered our nightly sleep ritual; he had lost the ability to lie facing me, holding my hand and quietly speaking to me until we drifted into sleep. Occasionally, he would take an over-the-counter pain reliever, but they didn’t provide a cure — they only gave him a temporary “reprieve.” I urged him to see one of my favorite LA-based physical therapists, and finally he relented.
The movement Rx
Dr. Dawn at Kinesis saw the issue immediately: My husband had excessively weak external rotators (the muscles that stabilize your shoulders by keeping them “down and back,” preventing your shoulder bones from hunching up towards your ears and rolling forward toward your computer keyboard). He also had extremely tight internal rotators (the muscles that help you to hold your arms on your computer mouse and on your keyboard for hours on end). He had a classic desk jockey overuse injury, and the only remedy would be for him to take his new prescription regularly.
Dr. Dawn prescribed movement — not medicine — to remedy his pain. She also gave him a very strict dose: “Do this once for every five minutes that you work at your keyboard.” She taught him a shoulder exercise I call “The Hitchhiking Pizzas.”
1. Stand or sit, stacking your skull over ribs and ribs over pelvis. (In other words, no slouching!)
2. Pull your arms against your sides, minimizing space between your arms and the side of your body.
3. Spin your arms so the palms face outwards, spreading your fingers as far apart as they’ll go.
4. Bend your elbows 90 degrees, as if holding heavy pizzas. Then try to move the “pizzas” backwards, imitating the action of a hitchhiker thumbing for a ride.
5. Hold for 30 seconds without letting your shoulder blades slide together. Don’t thrust your chest out and lose your stacked skull/ribs/pelvis as seen in the image below.
Movement over medicine
Within two days my husband’s shoulder pain went away. He is still doing those Hitchhiking Pizzas, although not with the frequency of the original Rx. If he doesn’t do the move several times a day (or does it wrong), the pain comes back.
Best of all, our own version of the “nightcap” has finally returned, and my husband and I can hold hands once again, dreaming soundly, profoundly and pain-free.
Conscious movement and proper positioning make such a huge difference to the health of your body’s tissues. It amazes me that pills are constantly thought of as the “fastest way to pain relief.” In reality, it takes just a few moments to rearrange your body so that it can respond to the stresses of life instead of being broken by them. Pills take much longer to be absorbed into your bloodstream (along with their unfavorable side effects), while self-massage or a motion to reinforce a better posture take only a few moments and have no negative side effects.
I believe that self-care is the new normal for healthcare. It all starts with:
- Being willing to improve your self-awareness.
- Making choices that promote healing in the body.
- Disciplined practice to reinforce health and prevent issues in your tissues.
Jill Miller is the co-founder of Tune Up Fitness Worldwide, creator of the corrective exercise format Yoga Tune Up and The Roll Model Method. With more than 27 years of study in anatomy and movement, she is a pioneer in forging relevant links between the worlds of fitness, yoga, massage, and pain management. She developed the International program Rx Series for Equinox Fitness Clubs and is known as the Teacher’s Teacher. Jill and her teaching team have trained thousands of movement educators, clinicians, and manual therapists to incorporate her unique techniques into fitness and medical facility programs internationally.