Shoulder Pain, Part 3: Tendonitis, Ergonomics, and Space

Leslie and not-me
Leslie and not-me

On Friday I went to see my anatomy teacher Leslie Kaminoff, who noticed my blog posts bemoaning my injury and kindly invited me to come in to his clinic. Yay for blogs! I sit in class every week and watch him fix people, but I kept thinking my shoulder would be better tomorrow, or tomorrow, or maybe tomorrow…

I did my little demo of snap-crackle-pops around the left shoulder blade, which he said was probably tendonitis (inflammation of the tendons). I told him about the pinch in the upper arm, and how I’d tried to treat it according to my trigger point book, which pointed me to a big painful knot on the back of my shoulder blade. He said that the spasming muscle was probably the teres minor, more than the infraspinatus, since I felt the knot better with the arm over my head. He asked about my job and computer use, so I described my work station… turns out that elbows on the desk is “really, really bad. There’s your problem.” Villain!

Then came the treatment. It’s like a bit of chiropractics, a dash of Thai yoga massage, and a pinch of Shiatsu all mixed up as a breathing lesson. He found a rotated vertebrae in my neck and fixed that. He found all the “stuck” vertebrae in my back, and popped them. He stabilized the center of my diaphragm (aka “pushed on my tummy”) to force my ribs to expand upwards as I breathed. And he cranked me into this one twist that I swear popped the fused vertebrae in my tail. Then he stretched out my hip flexors, my hip extensors, and my neck. We hadn’t even gotten to my shoulder yet.

All these adjustments were like adding an extension onto my house. When I sat up, it was like I had a third lung; I just kept inhaling. He said that when we have an injury, we have to look at what’s supporting it. So, a neck or shoulder condition can result from tightness (or collapse) in the ribcage. When we have good support below, we can have full mobility above.

Then we adjusted the shoulder a bit. He pressed his thumbs into my back as I moved my arms from side to side, up and down. I felt the knots underneath squirming and trying to escape. He popped the humerus back into its socket a bit, I don’t know how. And then we were done!

I can’t get over the fact that the solution to this is breathing better. It makes sense; if I loosen up my ribcage, I can stretch my shoulders from the inside, too, 24 hours a day! But it seems so easy. As with my meditation, and asana practice, I’m going to have to beat myself over the head with the “secret”: it’s all about your breath! Maybe I’ll take it literally, Monty-Python-style. That’ll convince the masochist in me. I will still be squelching the knots under my neck with my tennis ball; it’s a new favorite sport, and I have to undo all my computer poses. But it’s amazing how posture the way we align ourselves in the 22+ hours OUTSIDE of yoga practice will make or break our health.

So. Next step is to rearrange my whole computer setup, ugh. (And up my olive oil intake, it’s the best anti-inflammatory and that should help my tendonitis… along w/the icy New York weather.) I guess I need a higher chair, or a lower desk. But I already went today and bought one of those ugly laptop stands, so my computer is floating six inches above my desk (like a good yogi) with a new keyboard underneath. My big head is no longer looking down at my screen, pulling on the back of my neck. My elbows are opening downward, and my wrists are flat. And my shoulders are relaxed.

POSTSCRIPT I forgot an interesting part. Leslie said that the infraspinatus (or was it subscapularis?) and rhomboid muscles work in opposition, and while we do a lot of rotator cuff strengthening in yoga (chaturangas and other “pushing” movements), we don’t have a lot of poses or movements where we “pull” our arms back or shoulder blades together and strengthen the rhomboids. So he said I could loop a strap around a door handle, hold it with straight arms, lean back, and pull from the shoulder blades in little pulses to strengthen the rhomboids. Without overdoing it, of course. I think I might try to get myself back onto an erg

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