The Pectoralis Minor - explained...
Ever experience sore shoulders? Achy neck? Constant headaches, which no amount of painkillers and neck rubs can permanently resolve?
It may be surprising to discover that these are often symptoms of tension, not in the back or shoulders, but in the front of the body; namely, in a little muscle in the upper chest called the pectoralis minor.
The “pec minor” controls the position of your shoulders; an activated, contracted pec muscle lifts the shoulder blades, and rounds the shoulders and upper back. This is useful for stabilizing the shoulders when, for example, carrying heavy things in front of your body, but can cause problems if the muscle becomes chronically shortened.
So why does the pec minor shorten? The simple answer is technology and modern life. Anything involving reaching your arms in front of your body will activate the pec muscles, which means any time you are sitting at a computer, driving a car, riding a bike, using your phone or carrying a child, you are actively shortening this muscle. Most people who perform the above actions (that is, almost everyone on this side of the planet) do these activities for several hours each day, which builds the pattern of contraction and shortening more permanently into the muscle.
As mentioned, shortening the pec minor rounds the shoulders forward, and also causes a collapsing of the chest, which then triggers a forward shift in the head; this then stresses, or “loads” the upper shoulder muscles and creates tension in all of the muscles and fascia (connective tissue) around the neck, jaw, skull, and upper back, leading to pain in these areas.
So how do we address this issue? With regular, consistent releasing of the muscles, through massage and bodywork, and targeted stretching. It is extremely beneficial for the entire body to experience massage therapy as regularly as possible. Realistically though, we don’t all have the time or resources to devote to hour-long daily massage treatments. This is where a few minutes of daily self-treatment, with specific muscular release techniques and simple chest stretches, can really provide long term relief from upper body issues and pain, and even help to improve breathing and spinal mobility, which leads to greater energy levels and general mental, physical and emotional well-being.
For a simple pec minor stretch, stand in a doorway, or near a column/wall corner. Lift one arm about 15 degrees above shoulder height, and bend the elbow so that the finger and hand are reaching upwards. Place the elbow and forearm upright along the edge of the doorway/wall, and relax the shoulder blade down your back. Lunge one foot behind the other, and press into the back foot and lean forward, until you feel a stretch in the upper chest and shoulder.
Tip! the elbow should be above shoulder height for best activation/access to the pec minor stretch, and to help relax some of the loaded tension from the posterior supporting shoulder muscles.