Musicians' Health Collective

Musicians' Health Collective: Supporting the health of musicians (and normal people)

Filtering by Tag: shoulder

Helping Your Levator Scapulae

On Wednesday, we looked at what exactly the Levator Scapulae are.  When do you use them?  When you lift your shoulders, flex your head to one side, rotate your head...all things that many musicians do frequently, often without awareness.  You will also elevate your levator scapulae when you carry bags, either on one side or both sides, which many of us do to carry our instruments everywhere.  If your levator scapulae cause you some discomfort, here are some suggestions:

The levator scapulae are just two of many, many different deep muscles of the upper back and neck, which all work together to create movement in the neck and upper back.  To find them on your own body, palpate the superior angle of your scapula (the innermost corner of your shoulder blade) and look for a muscle that runs diagonally to the lateral sides of the neck.  Try lifting and lowering your shoulder blades and see if a muscle jumps underneath your fingers.  You will definitely feel the middle fibers of the trapezius, which are superficial to the LS, but feel around with more pressure and see what you notice.  What is the quality of the tissue?  How does it feel underneath your fingers?  Do you have pain or lack of sensation?  Are there adhesions?    

The levator scapulae are just two of many, many different deep muscles of the upper back and neck, which all work together to create movement in the neck and upper back.  To find them on your own body, palpate the superior angle of your scapula (the innermost corner of your shoulder blade) and look for a muscle that runs diagonally to the lateral sides of the neck.  Try lifting and lowering your shoulder blades and see if a muscle jumps underneath your fingers.  You will definitely feel the middle fibers of the trapezius, which are superficial to the LS, but feel around with more pressure and see what you notice.  What is the quality of the tissue?  How does it feel underneath your fingers?  Do you have pain or lack of sensation?  Are there adhesions?    

1.  Manual Therapy: Massage is a critical part of self care and soft tissue health, yet few musicians can afford to get massage as regularly as they might need it.  As a teacher of self massage techniques and Yoga Tune Up, I think self-massage can enhance proprioception and overall awareness of the body, while also supporting  regular (or less frequent) bodywork.  It's not meant to replace manual therapy, but merely give the practitioner an opportunity to continue the self-treatment beyond a session. I prefer soft, pliable stress transfer mediums (squishy balls over lacrosse balls or wooden or plastic implements) and for more information on self-massage, read here.  My favorite sequences target the upper back musculature, the latissimus attachment sites, and the tempermental trapezius.    Here’s a great video of YTU teacher Holli Rabishaw demonstrating “zombie with a twist" which is one of my favorite moves to do on the wall.

2.  Observation and retraining: For upper string players, working with an Alexander Technique teacher, Feldenkrais teacher, body mapping instructor, or other somatic practitioner can not only help one find more freedom without one’s instrument, but also tweak mechanical instrumental setup to better suit one’s individual body.  There are a myriad of different ergonomic products being developed to improve instrumental setup and alignment for all musicians, and more than ever, there are options for every body.  (Gone are the days of one chin rest and one shoulder rest fits all).    For upper string players, lessons can enhance overall awareness of the upper body and neck, find freedom throughout the neck, upper back, and shoulders, and an observation of less than optimal habits.  Having another set of trained eyes can help a student find a more optimal setup, regardless of instrument, but also more carefully examine the movement choices that may be hindering freedom.  There isn't a fixed position that will solve all issues, but looking at mechanical gear with the help of another can greatly aid students or professionals working to find more freedom.  *Side note-I personally have found that the teacher matters more than the particular methodology being taught, in regards to movement teachers, exercise instruction, Alexander Technique, Feldenkrais, etc.  A method that is taught safely, conscientiously, and with sensitivity towards the student, has the potential to be beneficial.*

 

When working with the neck, gentle movements are paramount!  This illustration shows a simple lateral flexion exercise, though adding the weight of the arm can be too intense, and please don't PULL on your neck!  The weight of the arm here is passive and ultimately optional

When working with the neck, gentle movements are paramount!  This illustration shows a simple lateral flexion exercise, though adding the weight of the arm can be too intense, and please don't PULL on your neck!  The weight of the arm here is passive and ultimately optional

3. Neck mobility: Make sure that you’re bringing your neck through a wide range of motions, especially if you play an asymmetrical instrument.  With the advent of technology, cell phones, driving...etc, most of us keep our head and neck in a very static position for hours a day.  With all neck movement, slow gentle movement is critical, as opposed to violent cracking and popping.  Neck circles can help, as well as lateral neck flexion coupled with rotation at different angles.  If there is repetitive clicking or popping in the cervical vertebrae, stop  the motion.  Many physical therapists and movement teachers will instruct a neck mobility sequence- I don't have a video that I particularly love, but there are tons of resources available in books, in person, and on the web.

4. Dynamic shoulder movements: Along with daily mobilization of the neck, dynamic shoulder warmups can help increase bloodflow, maintain healthy ranges of motion, and warmup the upper body before or after playing.  There is an infinite amount of movement possible at the shoulder, yet most of us only explore a fraction of what's possible in our day to day lives.  Shoulder shrugs, shoulder circles, overhead motions, circumduction...anything that helps to move your humerus, clavicle, and scapula will help bring some movement to this area.  Make shoulder movement a part of daily maintenance, not just something you do in your yoga class or lap swim.  Here's one of my teachers, Jill Miller, demonstrating a brief warmup.

5. Self-examination: What are your habits?  Do you carry a one sided purse or case and do you always use one shoulder in particular?  Are you satisfied with your overall instrument setup?   Can you carry less music in your case or bring a lighter bag with you ?  Do you hold your cellphone with your shoulder?  Do you always sleep on one side of the body or flex the head and neck while sleeping?  Are the movements you've adopted while playing serving the technical and musical goals?  Or are they hindering you?  Consider video taping yourself playing or performing  to observe what your tendencies are.  When you are inquisitive  with your assumed habits, both in playing and in the life, you can often find solutions to musical issues within your own body, as well as a new embodied awareness of what may (or may not) be serving you.

Remember that when changing movement habits, your soft tissues need time to adapt to a new setup, case strap situation, exercise, or chin rest!  Gradual change trumps extreme changes every time, especially when a pattern has been sustained for years at a time. 

 

This guy is using his LS to carry his cello, although he has a waist strap to try to distribute the weight better throughout the upper body.  Although carrying a backpack will even out out the load between the shoulders (assuming the straps are the same length), both Levator Scapulae are working to hold the object in a fixed position.

This guy is using his LS to carry his cello, although he has a waist strap to try to distribute the weight better throughout the upper body.  Although carrying a backpack will even out out the load between the shoulders (assuming the straps are the same length), both Levator Scapulae are working to hold the object in a fixed position.


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Your Phone is Trying To Kill You (or at least prevent you from ever practicing)

Last week I drove to Dallas at 5 AM in the morning, and while this is not recommended, I made it safely with the help of Amy Poehler's audiobook, "Yes, please."  The final chapter is entitled, "The Robots Will Kill Us All: A Conclusion," and it details the ways in which phones have taken over our lives.  Few would disagree that phones are a distraction for any person- you try to do work and it pings and zings, but for a musician trying to practice or accomplish anything, it is like a spoiled child constantly wanting food.  Poehler writes, "My phone sits in my pocket like a packet of cigarettes used to.  I am obsessed and addicted and convinced my phone is trying to kill me."  I totally agree, and here are some of my reasons of why my phone is trying to kill me (and possibly all of us):

I don't remember where I saw this, but it makes me laugh.  I am guilty of being obsessed with the phone like everyone else.

I don't remember where I saw this, but it makes me laugh.  I am guilty of being obsessed with the phone like everyone else.

1.  Text message sounds: you can't do anything without the pinging of the text sound.  It's ubiquitous and can kill any practice session in seconds.  I love being able to reach people, but sometimes I just turn everything on airplane mode so I can actually get something done.

2.  Every app now gives updates, including Facebook which then pings to tell you that someone commented on your status/your friend's status/your mom's status/your friend's baby photos.   More pinging/zinging/bells sounding.

3.  We carry our phones everywhere because they still act as watches.  I am completely embarrassed to say that I don't wear a watch and I just bring my phone with me.

4.  We have tuners and metronomes on our phones, which then justify keeping them on the stand.

Smartphones invite us to slouch our spines and bring our heads forward to look down.

Smartphones invite us to slouch our spines and bring our heads forward to look down.

5.  We interact with some people less in person, and more via text.  I know more than one colleague who is incredibly awkward in person, but a very verbose texter who uses abundant emojis (something I only recently discovered).

6.  Musicians now bring phones onstage, in rehearsal, to lessons, and everything in between.  In my day (10 years ago), people turned their Nokia phones off or got in major trouble for disrupting rehearsal.  Now, everyone thinks they've turned their phone off and then a phone goes off in rehearsal or a concert every few weeks, and it's so normal that few people react.  We don't need our phones with us all the time.

7.  They breed comparisonitis.  You can essentially stalk people and see if they win auditions, went to auditions, music festivals, etc., and

8. We check it all the time, as though something interesting and exciting is happening.  67% of cellphone owners check their phones even when it isn’t alerting them to incoming information, according to a recent Pew study. 

See how this person is lifting his shoulder to talk on the phone?  It can be super painful!

See how this person is lifting his shoulder to talk on the phone?  It can be super painful!

9.  We overuse our eye muscles by keeping the object the same distance from our face, giving us the tunnel vision effect.  Then we slouch our spine and bring our head forward to text.   We sometimes lift our shoulder or contort our body in other unpleasant ways to use the device.

10.  We have no idea what the radiation/cellular waves will do to us, especially since so many people keep phones in pockets and on their person.  The electromagnetic waves are no joke, but since the influx of cell usage is new, we don't know the long term consequences.

11.  They invite us to be more distracted drivers, more distracted practicers, more distracted everything.  I know so many people who can't have dinner or drinks without their phone on the table, despite being with other people.  *Please don't text and drive.  It's stupid.*

12.  Lastly, they contribute to our inability to focus on tasks for long periods of time.  (Obviously, the internet is also to blame).  It's so easy to get distracted while practicing, writing, listening, studying, watching TV, or anything.  We just so rarely do one thing, and do only that thing. 

A few suggestions:

1.  Unless you have to be reached for some reason, try turning your phone off or into airplane mode sometime.  I usually do this for walks, practicing, and runs, and find I'm less distracted.  See if you can practice better free of that distraction.

2.  Don't carry your phone in your pocket.  Radiation+proximity to genitals=a curious and possibly dangerous mix.

3.  Don't drive and text/facebook/whatever.  Tell Siri to do something and if she doesn't do it (she's a righteous robot sometimes), pull over and get thingsworking.  I'm terrified when I'm driving near someone  (or in their car) fiddling on their phone.

4.  Notice if you hold your cell phone by lifting your shoulder up.  Please don't do that- switch sides, hold it in your hand, or get a headset. 

5.  Don't forget to be alive in the present, not just on the internet.  I find myself occasionally obsessed with checking my emails or looking at blog stats, and I have just to remind myself to get a life and do something better.




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