We don’t have to sing it to the tune of Salt ‘n’ Pepa, but we really do need to talk about pecs.
We’ve all seen variations on this cartoon by now:
It’s all well and good to have a little chuckle, but the reality is that lots of us are computer based these days, spending far more time hunched over keyboards than standing upright. Some others among us just have slouchy posture, shoulders rounded forward, a little bit stooped. I have been guilty of all of these offenses at various times. There’s no shame in it, but there is sometimes some pain.
What’s interesting is that, while we can clearly see that the chest is closed when one is hunched over, that the pecs draw arms and shoulders forward and shift the body into a kyphotic posture, most clients I’ve met with hypertonic pecs experience the discomfort in the upper back and shoulders and don’t think to stretch the pecs to bring relief to those areas. I understand this.
When I first studied anatomy, few things drove home the crazy, three-dimensional interconnectedness of the body like learning that pec minor — a muscle that I had worked out with butterfly chest presses at the gym years before, eyeing the little picture on the gym equipment of the human form with the sliver of pec minor highlighted on the chest in red — attaches to the scapula. Those of you who are well versed in anatomy and to whom this is common knowledge, please grant me this moment of wonder. This is a front-of-the-body muscle that attaches to a back-of-the-body bone inside the body. I understand the shoulder girdle now and the three-dimensional nature of things, but there was a time, way back when I was in massage school studying books and therabands, when learning about the pecs blew my mind.
Years later, I find that releasing pectoralis muscles helps relieve upper back and shoulder pain more often than not in my computer user clients. Lengthening short pec majors allows rounded shoulders to roll back, and releasing pec minor gives the scapula more of a chance to slide back into its natural spot. Pecs are also a common nerve entrapment site (I’ll get to that in another post), and yet they are frequently neglected. Along with hands and scalp, pecs top my (highly anecdotal and unscientific) list of places where people say they did not know were tense before getting a massage, and pec stretches are some of the most common homework I give out. This video demonstrates a nice static stretch for pectoralis major (elbow parallel to shoulder) and minor (arm raised). After a day of massage and typing, that stretch looks like just the thing.