Sitting in front of a computer or performing in repetitive activities such as weightlifting or volleyball can lead to tight chest muscles that may impair an individual’s posture and function. The pectoralis muscles, both major and minor, attach at the sternum (breastbone) and to the bones of the shoulder and upper arm. The pectoralis major is a strong, fan-shaped muscle that begins at the clavicle and sternum to insert onto the humerus. This muscle works to flex or medially rotate the arm at the shoulder joint. It also plays an important role as an accessory breathing muscle to help with inspiration. The pectoralis minor begins from the third through fifth ribs and extends diagonally up the chest to attach to the scapula. It helps draw the scapula forward and downward. Both of these muscles work together to allow you to horizontally adduct your shoulders to bring it in and across your body. Tight chest muscles may lead to a decreased range of motion and difficulty with performing daily activities that involve lifting or pushing. Read below to learn five effective stretches to release tension in the chest muscles.
Stand beside a door frame or corner of a wall. Keeping your back straight and your inner core engaged, bring your arm up against the wall with the elbow and shoulder bent at 90 degrees. With the arm planted on the wall, draw your opposite shoulder back followed by your torso in a straight line. Keep the back straight and core engaged. Hold this for 30 seconds and repeat 3 times on each side 2 times per day.
A tight upper back may be attributed to stiffness in the shoulder, neck, or back muscles surrounding the thoracic spine. Rounded or slump shoulders, having sway in the lower back, or a forward head position due to weak back extensor muscles, short and tight chest muscles, or weak abdominal muscles may result in an individual having poor posture. Poor posture can place tension in the upper back and may result in irritation or pain. Sports, weightlifting, irregular sleeping positions, or car accidents may also cause tightness in the upper neck and back region. Mobilizing and strengthening the muscles surrounding the thoracic spine may relieve an individual of stiffness or pain, while improving an individual’s range of motion and functioning. Remember to have a balanced, upright posture by standing tall, bringing the shoulders down and back, tuck your chin, and keep a neutral spine to work on better posture.
Lie sideways on a mat or on the floor with both arms extended to one side and hands together. Bend the knee of the top leg to form a 90 degree angle. Place a long foam roller underneath the bent knee if you are unable to touch the ground with this top knee. Keeping your lower body in this position, twist your upper back by bringing the top arm over your body to the other side to touch the floor. Repeat 10-12 times, then lie on the other side and complete the same movement.
Begin in a table-top position with your knees hip-width apart and wrists shoulder-width apart on a mat or on the floor. Keep a neutral spine and head position. Move into the “cow” pose by inhaling as you drop your belly down towards the mat as you lift your chin and chest up to gaze toward the ceiling. Then move into the “cat” pose by exhaling as you draw your belly into your spine and round your back toward the ceiling. Repeat 10-15 times.
Begin seated in a chair with both feet planted on the floor or seated on the floor. Raise one arm up towards the ceiling. With your arm raised above your head, slowly bend to the opposite side. Return to the start position and lower your arm. Then raise the other arm and slowly bend to the opposite side. Repeat 5-10 times on each side.
Place a long foam roller perpendicular to your spine on a mat or on the floor underneath your shoulder blades. Interlace your fingers and place your hands behind your head to support the weight of your head. Slowly push with your feet to roll the foam roller up and down the thoracic region. Maintain a neutral spine and engage your abs.
This exercise helps to re-train muscle activation in the shoulder blades and mobilizes the muscles surrounding the thoracic spine for a better functional recovery. Place your hands and knees in a four point or table-top position with a neutral spine. Engage the inner core and start by walking one hand out to one side, then back to the centre, and then to the other side, then back to the centre again. Put full equal weight each time you place your hand down. Maintain a neutral spine throughout the exercise. Repeat for 30 seconds for 3 sets.
Persistent pain between the shoulder pains, or interscapular pain, may arise from a number of varying causes. The scapula is the bone that connects the humerus (upper arm bone) with the clavicle (collar bone) on either side of the body. The intrinsic muscles of the scapula include the subscapularis, teres minor, supraspinatus, and infraspinatus, all of which make up the rotator cuff. The major muscles surrounding the scapula that make up the interscapular region include the rhomboids, trapezius, and levator scapulae.
Weak scapular muscles can lead to an array of injuries including shoulder impingement, rotator cuff tears, and other shoulder-related pains. Pain may be followed by a restricted range of motion and may severely worsen if left untreated. Strengthening the scapular muscles can provide long-term benefits for rehabilitation and performance. Try the five following exercises below:
1. Lie down flat on a bench with a light dumbbell in each hand.
2. Hold the dumbbells on either side of your chest with the palms facing away from your shoulders and your elbow at a 90 degree angle.
3. Push your arms upwards and feel your shoulder blades separate. Remember to keep the dumbbells parallel to each other until the very top of the press.
3. Inhale and slowly bring down both dumbbells to the sides of your chest until you reach the 90 degree angle at the elbow. Breathe out on your next rep. Perform 3 sets of 10 reps.
1. Stand a few steps away from a wall, then place your hands on the wall so that they are slightly more than shoulder-width apart and arms are locked out.
2. Maintain a neutral back and neck, then slowly lean towards the wall by bending your elbow.
3. Squeeze your shoulder blades together as you lower yourself and hold this forward position for 2-3 seconds.
4. Slowly straighten your arm and relax your shoulder blades. Repeat 10 times.
1. In a comfortable standing position, hold a light band in between both hands about shoulder-width apart.
2. Pull the band as wide as you can, then slowly bring the arms back to the starting position. Perform 3 sets of 10 reps.
1. Lie on your stomach on a bench or Swiss ball with a light dumbbell in each hand.
2. Straighten your arms so that the dumbbell is in front of your head.
3. Lift the dumbbells up, keeping your arms straight, to make a “Y” shape with your torso.
4. Slowly lower them down. Perform 3 sets of 10 reps.
1. Hold a very light dumbbell straight in front of you at approximately 45 degree angle.
2. Maintain this position for about 10 seconds.
3. Then, slowly lower the dumbbell to the side of your body. Perform 10 holds on each side.
BONUS: Watch this video to learn an extra exercise for the scapula muscles!