How-to: Chin tucks

Head forward posture - Ottawa massage blogMany of us have a posture that massage therapists describe as “forward head carriage”, and that is now also frequently called “text neck”. Computer use and texting are two common reasons for this head position that strains the neck and shoulders, and can contribute to headaches, muscle aches, jaw problems, internally rotated shoulders, and bony changes in the neck and spine.

Then what is correct head posture?  To achieve correct head posture and for your neck to be in neutral, your earlobe should line up with the mid-point of your shoulder. (Otherwise described as having the mastoid process in line with the acromion.)

Correct Neck Posture - Ottawa Massage Blog

If you have forward head posture, worry no more – we are here to teach you a very simple correcting exercise called chin tucks. Chin tucks are a simple way of strengthening your deep neck flexors, realigning your cervical (neck) spine, and reducing forward head posture.

If you see yourself more like the first picture, try daily chin tucks to help strengthen your neck muscles and bring your head back into proper position. Here is how to perform them:

Chin tuck - Ottawa Massage Blog

1. Lie down on the floor, your bed, or a massage table.

2. Tuck your chin in towards the spine.

3. Lift your head a few inches off the floor, gazing at the horizon.

4. Hold until fatigue. Rest, and repeat tomorrow.

A strong neck can hold the posture for 45 or more seconds without shaking and without the chin un-tucking.

If you have a weaker neck, do this once a day, every day, and see how fast your strength can improve.

Try it yourself! How long can you hold it?


Bonus exercise: Here’s a video with a short and easy series of self-care tricks from our friends at Heritage Fitness in Carleton Place!

Holding your head high

As we saw last time, strengthening the deep neck flexors helps to keep the head on straight. But along with attention to the front of the neck, it’s important to improve the health of the suboccipitals at the base of the back of the skull. When taut or irritated, these muscles can cause headaches as well as tension through the jaw, head, and shoulders.

Body Poets Massage Therapy

Muscle of the Month: Suboccipitals

There are eight tiny muscles that have the huge job of keeping your head up, but they can cause a huge headache too! These are your suboccipital muscles. Resting in the nook at the base of the skull, these muscles are essential to fine head movements and in relaying proprioception of your head (where your head is in space and time) to your brain. When out of balance or strained, these muscles can cause temporal headaches and pain with neck movements.

Suboccipital - ottawa massage blog Rectus Capitis Posterior Minor

Suboccipital - ottawa massage blog Rectus Capitis Posterior Major

Actions – 

Rectus Capitis Posterior Major: Rock and tilt head back into extension, rotate head to same side

Rectus Capitis Posterior Minor: Rock and tilt head back into extension

Suboccipital - ottawa massage blog Oblique Capitis Superios

Suboccipital - ottawa massage blog Oblique Capitis Inferior

Oblique Capitis Superior: Rock and tilt head back into extension

Oblique Capitis Inferior: Rotate head to same side

Common pain culprit – Eye…

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Ropey Rhomboids

Muscle of the month: Rhomboids

Rhomboid - Ottawa massage blogWeak or torn rhomboids are common these days. Hunching over our computers and mobile devices works against the rhomboids, causing them to lengthen, become weak, and form painful trigger points and muscular tension. As a massage therapist progresses through a client’s back muscles, the rhomboids can feel like taut ropes, snapping back at us.

Actions: Retraction of scapula (squeezing shoulder blades together), downward rotation of scapula, keeping scapula fixed to rib cage.

Common pain culprit: Hunching, poor posture, taut or excessively strong chest muscles.

TRhomboid trp - Ottawa massage bloghere are two separate rhomboids (Major and Minor), though they have the same actions (see above). When the rhomboids are weak and overworked, it is common to see shoulder blade “winging” (the bottom edge of your shoulder blade appears to lift away from your ribs, like a wing), and a dropped shoulder. This is because the affected rhomboids are unable to contract and oppose other muscles that are overpowering them. Over time, the stretched rhomboid muscles develop trigger points, and become quite taut, giving rise to pain and even more dysfunction.

The fix: Improve posture.

Getting rid of the hunch and improving your posture will bring the rhomboids back to their rightful resting position, helping to alleviate pain. Here are a few tricks the RMTs at Body Poets give to clients:

Set an alarm throughout the day to remind you to sit up straight at your computer.

Sit as if there is a string attached to the centre of your head, gently pulling you straight.

Rotate your hands so that your palms are facing out, and squeeze your shoulder blades together.

Stretch your pectoral (chest) muscles throughout the day, so they don’t tighten up and overpower the rhomboids. Ask your RMT to show you how to do the “doorway stretch” or other pec stretches.


How-to: Keep a Strong Core

Your core is the centre of strength in the body. A strong core leads to improved posture, performance, and pain management. The core consists primarily of your abdominal muscles (rectus abdominus, external and internal obliques, transverse abdominus), your lower back muscles (erector spinae, multfidi), your pelvic floor muscles, and your diaphragm (the main breathing muscle). Engaging these muscles whenever you execute a dynamic movement helps to stabilize your body. With a strong core you will find you are less prone to injury, have better balance, and have a more effective reaction time.

Core muscles - Ottawa massage blog

Below we’ve highlighted some key exercises to help improve core strength.

Abdominal Exercise

There are many abdominal exercises you could do to strengthen your core. The one we are highlighting here engages all the abdominal muscles as well as the lower back muscles. It’s the best bang for your buck!

1. Sit on the ground with your knees bent and feet flat. Lean slightly back  until your feet come up off the ground and you are balanced on your tail bone.

2. In the position, interlace your fingers and hold them in front of you, then cross your ankles. This is the starting position.

Ab twist - Ottawa massage blog

3. From the starting position, twist to one side with your torso so your hands reach the floor. Ab twist 2 - Ottawa massage blog

4. Bring yourself back to the starting position and repeat to the other side. Do the whole exercise starting at 5 reps per side for 3 sets. Rest in between each set. Work your way up to more reps as your abdominals build.

Lower Back Exercise

This next exercise is a two-in-one exercise too! We will focus on the low back part of it, but it also engages the abdominals.

1. Lie on the floor, arms to your side, palms up, feet together.

Leg raise - ottawa massage blog

2. Raise your legs so your feet are almost a foot off the ground. Lower the feet so you begin to feel your pelvis tilt and your low back engage. Hold here for 30 seconds. Do this 3 times.

3. To engage the abdominals and get more from this exercise, lift your legs to 90 degrees and lower them. Repeat this slowly for 10 reps and 3 sets.

Ottawa masasge blog - leg raise (3)

Pelvic Floor Exercise

Pelvic floor  ottawa massage blog

Kegel exercises are growing in popularity and are the go-to exercise for the pelvic floor. This is usually a good band wagon to hop on to, as a strong pelvic floor helps with urinary incontinence, gives needed support to the bladder, uterus, small intestine and rectum, and helps generate a strong core. (However, some people do overwork the pelvic floor, so if you do have issues with incontinence, bowel movements, pelvic pain, or related pains, you may benefit from consulting a pelvic floor physiotherapist to make sure you are engaging the correct muscles, to the correct degree.)

Follow these simple steps below.

1. Find the right muscle. Your pelvic floor muscles help stop urine mid-stream. If you are able to do this, you’ve found the right muscle. You should be able to isolate this contraction, without contraction of your abs, glutes or thighs.

2. Start in a relaxed position. Contract, hold for 5 seconds, release for 5 seconds. Slowly work your way up to 10-second contraction and 10-second rest. This should be done for 10 reps, 3 times a day.

(It’s not recommended to do Kegel exercises while urinating, except to check that you are using the right muscle, as this can ultimately interfere with proper emptying of the bladder.)

Diaphragmatic exercise

Crystal Veinot highlighted the diaphragm in her breathing post last month. (Check it out here!) The breathing Crystal taught is a great way to begin to engage the diaphragm. If you already engage your diaphragm, or want a more challenging breath, try this exercise: Sand bag breathing. Sand bag breathing adds resistance to the diaphragm during contraction, allowing it to strengthen.

Sandbag breathing - ottawa massage blog1. Find a sand bag (or a packet of beans, rice, etc.) that is of a comfortable weight, from five pounds (if you are new to this) up to 15 lbs (if you want to challenge yourself).

2. Lie comfortably on the floor and place the bag on your abdomen, right around the end of your rib cage.

3. Begin to breathe diagrammatically. As you inhale, your stomach should expand and the bag should rise. As you exhale, your stomach should slowly collapse back in, and the bag will follow.

4. Do this 1 minute at a time, working yourself up to a comfortable length of time. This exercise should be relaxing, not strenuous.

Your massage therapist can assist you with any of these exercises at your next appointment.

Pelvic floor image courtesy of Image courtesy of

Pillow me…

Ellen SymonsBy: Ellen Symons, RMT
Ellen is a registered massage therapist and the owner of Body Poets. She finds many poems in her work each day.

Why do we use pillows on the massage table? A client asked me this the other day. There are several biomechanical and postural reasons. There is also the way that being pillowed lets us sink more deeply into relaxation and into letting go of our burdens.

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The Trapezius, part 2 – Super posture!

Monthly Muscle: Trapezius

Trapezius sections - Ottawa massage blogThe middle and inferior traps fill the space from just below the top of the shoulder blades in a V down to the lower third of the back (the red and pink sections in the diagram to the right). Along with the upper traps, which we saw last week, these two muscles help move and support your shoulder blades and spine.

Middle Trapezius: The posture corrector

Actions – Pulls shoulder blades towards spine

Common pain culprit – Slouching; Internally rotated shoulders

If you work at a computer, wear a back pack or workout your pecs too much, you probably have internally rotated shoulders. With internally rotated shoulders, comes weakness in the middle trapezius. This happens because the internal rotation is drawing the shoulder blades farther from the spine, keeping the middle trapezius in a constant stretch position. Pain arises because the muscle no longer has the strength to fully contract back to its original length.

Middle Traps - Ottawa massage blogThe fix? Stretch pecs, strengthen mid traps/rhomboids, correct posture.

Keep checking our blog for great postural exercises. Or, ask your RMT to demonstrate proper strengthening exercises at your next visit.

Lower Trapezius:  Superman muscle

Actions – Depresses and upwardly rotates shoulder blade

Common pain culprit – Holding arms out unsupported (e.g.: driving with hands high on wheel, typing without support of table underneath forearms)

The lower traps are engaged when you hold your arms out in front of you, similar to Superman flying through the air. Holding this position for an extended period of time will result in overuse and strain of the lower traps.

Lower traps - Ottawa massage blog

Even though this muscle is much lower on the back, its pain referral pattern can extend into the neck. This is why it is important to include a back massage when you are coming in for treatment of neck pain. Clearing out the trigger points in the lower traps will help reduce your neck pain and improve postural control.

The fix? Ergonomic assessment of work station, stretch abdominals, strengthen lower traps

The ‘Superman’ position above is one lower trapezius strength exercise. There are many more, from isometric (without movement) to dynamic exercises. Your RMT can suggest options to suit your body and needs.

The Trapezius – that pain in your neck!

Monthly Muscle: Trapezius

The trapezius, often known as the “traps”, is a large muscle that occupies 2/3 of your back.  Divided into three parts, the trapezius muscle has a variety of actions that help move your neck, shoulder blade and spine. This muscle has a tendency to be out of balance due to our typical western posture: hunched over a computer for hours a day. Today we will learn about the upper part of the muscle: what it does, why it hurts, how to help it. Check in soon for the next segment on the middle and lower trapezius!

Trapezius - Ottawa massage blog

Upper Trapezius: That pain in your neck.

Actions – Bends head to side, extends head back, rotates head to opposite side.

Common pain culprit – Head forward posture and hiked-up shoulders.

Neck Pain - Ottawa massage blog

Many clients will exclaim that their shoulders are “hard as rocks”. What you are really feeling are the tensed fibers of the upper trapezius muscle that can’t relax back to their normal resting tension. This is primarily caused by overexerting the fibers. You might also experience neck pain or headaches. The headache is caused by the upper trapezius trigger point, which has a referral pattern that wraps behind and above the ear like a question mark.

The fix? Reduce ‘knots’ and correct postural imbalances

Rolling on a ball, self-massage, chin tucks, neck and shoulder stretches

Ask your therapist on your next visit to show you a postural correction routine tailored for your needs.