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How I Corrected My Winged Scapula

(Shoulder Blades That Stick Out)

 

An Overlooked Cause and Treatment

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When my fibromyalgia was at its worst, one of the many orthopedic problems I had was winged scapula. While I didn't feel any particular pain in my shoulder blades, it looked pretty bad. I did have pain that radiated up into my neck, giving me chronic neck pain. If you looked at me from behind my shoulder blades were very pronounced and stuck out from my body at a weird angle.

Most of the physical therapists I went to told me my problem was caused by back muscles that were stretched out and weak. They gave me back tightening exercises to do to strengthen my back. However, the back exercises just made me worse and made my neck hurt. In the end I figured out that the physical therapists were only half right. My back muscles were indeed weak and stretched out causing my shoulder blades to separate too easily from my body, but that was a symptom of my problems - not the cause. They presumed that where my dysfunction occurred was also the location of the cause of my problem, which in my case, and probably many others, was not true at all. It was a gross over simplification of a complex, interrelated set of factors.

The root cause of my scapula issues was that my chest muscles were overly tight from a combination of having a connective tissue disorder, a magnesium poor diet that kept my muscles from relaxing and sitting at a computer for long time periods. In my experience, there are some great physical therapists out there (and I eventually found a good one) but many PTs have difficulty distinguishing between where pain occurs and the source of the pain. They are not necessarily the same place. With the winged scapulae and many other of my orthopedic problems, the pain and dysfunction were often a symptom of a problem somewhere else in my body, and not the root cause.

Stretch or Tone: What to Do First?

Leon Chaitow, N.D., D.O. notes that it is common to believe that the first goal in body balance should be to tone up weak muscles. He disagrees with the approach. Dr. Chaitow feels that by freeing up and loosening the parts of your body where you are tight and stiff, this will in turn strengthen the weak muscles on their own.1

I have tried physical therapy both ways, and for me his way works better.

In the end, the main thing I did was yoga postures to loosen up my tight chest muscles, change my diet to get more magnesium to release my tight muscles, and take frequent computer breaks. With these changes the winged scapula condition cleared up completely over time. I think it was because my shoulder blades were no longer being pulled out of position by tight muscles from the front of my body.

It is interesting to note that the most common Western medical treatment for this condition is back strengthening exercises. I did not do any back strengthening exercises at all and my condition cleared up completely. The only thing I did was to loosen my tight chest muscles.

What Helped Me

1. Laying lengthwise on a hard styrofoam back roller. I have one that is about 36 inches long by 6 inches wide. I lay on it lengthwise with my spine centered on the middle of the roller. This is great for stretching out tight pectoral muscles. It particularly helps rounded shoulders.

Our back roller is one of the most used items in our house. One of my sons was having trouble with shortness of breath playing soccer. He started laying on the foam roller for about 30 minutes a day and at the next soccer practice he suddenly could breath better. It improved his playing dramatically. The roller probably would not help anyone who already had balanced muscles around their rib cage, but for someone like my son with tight pectoral muscles the change was amazing.

In my case I would say that this was the number one treatment that helped my scapula stay flatter.

man stretching out over a balance ball
Balance balls can be used for all types of chest stretches.

2. Laying backwards on a large balance ball. If you have not used one before, balance balls are large, sturdy inflatable balls larger than beach balls. When I use mine I kneel down, put the ball on the floor behind me and drape myself over backwards on it. This provides a good counter-stretch to being forward over a desk and keyboard at work all day. You can also do this pose with your feet on the ground instead of kneeling, and then put the ball more under your buttocks. It is a good way to do a supported back bend. (This stretch is pictured at the top of the page.)

3. Using a lumbar support roll in my office chair and the driver's seat in my car. My physical therapist suggested this and it has worked out well. I bought mine at a medical supply store. The one I use is quite thick, but they sell different sizes to fit different body types. I place it on my back below my shoulder blades. I can actually feel my muscles being stretched when I rest up against this support roll.

4. I did yoga to get my body on all around better shape. The book I found the most helpful for correcting this problem was Back Care Basics. The postures in the Back Care Basics book that helped the most were:

1. Passive Back Arch - page 97

2. Crocodile Twist - page 94

3. Standing Twist - page 108

4. One leg Up, One leg out - page 100. This pose seems to be more of a leg stretching pose, but in my case my chest muscles were tight, in part, because of tight muscles in my legs pulling on my torso. So by relieving the pressure in my legs, in turn it helped loosen up my chest muscles, which in turn loosened the pull on my shoulder blades.

5. Wall push - page 123

6. One Elbow Up, One Elbow Down - - page 153

7. Kneeling Backbend - page 153

Currently, my shoulder blades look quite normal. I still do yoga and all of the other tactics listed above every day. I hopes this keeps them that way.

 

 

 

References:

1. Chaitow, Leon. Maintaining Body Balance, Flexibility, and Stability: a Practical Guide to the Prevention and Treatment of Musculoskeletal Pain and Dysfunction. Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone, (2004): 17-18. Print.

 

Related Links -

Chronic Neck Pain Treatment Tips

Exercises for Pectus Excavatum - I suspect that tight chest muscles plus soft bones in the rib cage play a role in many cases of sunken chests.

Fibromyalgia Tips

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