January 8th, 2022
It’s the new year and like a new crisp white piece of paper, it’s all possibilities as you hold your pencil above it and wait to decide which way to go. Will it be a drawing of a landscape, will I work on a sculptural idea, will it be a note that I shouldn’t forget something, too late I likely have forgotten it since the paper is still blank.
I have things I want to work on in the future, more stretching with the Mers, I want to chat more about needles and I have to catch up to Ann with her studio upgrade! I also want to revisit my Peg Doll loom and talk about project bags and boxes.
However, after thinking about it and staring at that blank piece of paper I think we should start the year with a good stretch.
Let’s talk about Rhomboids!!! Not only are they a fascinating shape (sort of like a square but more creative: “a parallelogram with no right angles and with adjacent sides of unequal length”) they are also the muscles between your shoulder blades (Scapula). Their job is to help stabilize your arms and shoulders when your arms are out in front of you. As in when you weave, spin, felt, or work on the computer (typing and mousing). As the Rhomboids work, they are paired with muscles at the front of your shoulders (there are 3 of them so it’s not really fair, Poor Rhomboids!)
Although you may be feeling pain between the shoulder blades and stretching them out feels good it is often the anterior shoulder muscles shortening and causing the rhomboids to complain. So let’s look at a couple of stretches for Rhomboids and then try to open out the anterior shoulder. So Rhomboids won’t complain as much and you get to have fun longer!
There are a number of ways to stretch rhomboids, there are yoga stretches that focus on them, there are also cat stretches and the one I don’t see on the internet is the self-hug with rotation.
Now to help me with today’s blog I had offers from Dragon and Mr. Mer. I think Mr. Mer just wants to get out of his project bag and he has hopes I might keep working on building up his muscles more! While Dragon has a lovely back ridge and frill, his articulation of the scapula does not produce Rhomboids that would stretch quite the same way ours do. So even though Mr. Mer is a bit fishy he still has similar articulation in the shoulder and upper back.
With my willing victim, ummm… Volunteer, let us proceed to discussing how to stretch this fabulous muscle and why stretching the muscles that Rhomboids are working with maybe even better.
I have had Mr. Mer do a hard day of typing (too bad he can’t see what he is typing since he is watching his fingers when he types. I guess he did not have to take typing in grade 9 like I did, it didn’t go that well for me but that is another story.)
1 Typing and showing off his Rhomboids
You can see he has a well-developed upper back including Rhomboids, it may be all that swimming! The Felting needle stuck in his back is indicating the area of the muscle. It runs between the large scapular bone and the spine on an angle that looks Rhomboidal (thus Rhomboids, some muscle names make sense!).
2 Rhomboids between the shoulder blades (Scapula)
I asked him to turn around without moving his arms so you could see how contracted the anterior shoulder is in this position.
3 View of the front of shoulders
Three muscles help your shoulders curl in; Pec Major, Pec Minor and Short Head of Biceps. Sometimes Upper traps “Helps” and elevates your shoulder too. It is not as helpful as you hoped either. This is totally unfair since poor rhomboids on the back are having to stabilize against all three of them in the front.
If you are feeling the tension between the shoulder blades you have a few stretches to ease that. One that was popular and easy to do was the cat stretch. (this is usually done kneeling on the floor then arching your back like a cat and tucking your chin towards your chest to give a stronger stretch). Mr. Mer said it looked more like the dead man’s float from Beginner swimming lessons (oh the horror of these memories, the cold pool, the wet water…let us move on)
4-6 the Cat Stretch
If, like me, getting off the floor may do more harm than good, you may like this one better. Try a self-hug, not too much stretch there unless you are really tight!
7 Self-Hug Stretch
Keep that self-hug position and rotate the upper body slowly left then back to the right. If you need more stretch, try tipping the elbows down then rotating.
8 9 Self-hug with rotation
Now that Rhomboids have been stretched, let’s think about strengthening them while stretching out the anterior shoulder. This one is called the Invisible Can Crush.
10 Preparing for the Invisible Can Crush
Bring your arms down to your sides, bent at the elbow. Imagine your favourite flavour of pop can magically floating between your shoulder blades. OH NO! someone has switched it for some terrible tasting Pop!! Push your shoulder blades together and squish it for a count of about 7 seconds then relax. (Pop cans are weak and even weaker if they are invisible, so you don’t have to use all your strength in killing the can. Just use enough to feel like the muscle is working.)
11 Invisible Can Crush
Next, lift your elbows up towards your shoulders and then squish the offensive pop again. (Count to 7)
12 Invisible Can Crush
If we get Mr. Mer to turn around you can see that this will contract and strengthen rhomboids but also stretch the front of the shoulder. The change in position will stretch out a different part of the anterior shoulder.
13 Invisible Can Crush front view
If we can keep the front of the shoulder from curling in we also reduce its likelihood of compressing the group of nerves that run past the front of the shoulder (the nerve bundle is called the Brachial plexus). If you squish the right part of the nerve bundle, you can get numbness in the hand or fingers which is not a good thing if you are using sharp needles!
Another way to stretch the anterior shoulder is a Passive Anterior Shoulder Stretch with a pool noodle. Unfortunately, I could not find Mr. Mer a pool noodle to fit him. I gave Ann some foam hair rollers that look like they might have been the right size but I will have to go look and see what I have here. Oh, I found a miniature pool noodle but it’s a bit too miniature.
14 This pool noodle is a bit small for his manly, er…Fishly back
This can be easily fixed by wrapping a towel around it to make it a bit bigger. (I used a piece of felt and a few quick jabs with the needle to hold it in place! A couple of elastics will work with a real towel and pool noodle.
15 Pool noodle wrapped in a “Towel”
Mr. Mer is showing you where the pool noodle is positioned when he lies down (since he is not see-through) some people like to use the floor but I prefer doing this stretch on the bed.
16 Passive Anterior Shoulder Stretch, Pool noodle down the spine with a pillow under the head
17 The orientation of the pillow and pool noodle without Mr. Mer
The pool noodle (or pool noodle and towel) lies under the spine. This lifts the spine off the bed or the floor and lets the shoulders expand and relax towards the bed or floor. This is a passive stretch and should feel comfortable, not painful. Adding a pillow under the head is often even more comfortable.
If you feel you want to increase the passive stretch you can either use a bigger pool noodle or move closer to the edge of the bed and let one arm extend off that edge. Do not over-stretch, it is important to listen to the muscles for what feels comfortable.
18 Increasing the strength of the stretch by extending the arm
Remember to take a few stretch breaks while you are working. You can use a timer or drink something so your bladder reminds you it’s time to take a break.
I hope your shoulders and upper back are happy and you can now enjoy the potential that a new year brings just like a new crisp piece of drawing paper just waiting for your first flash of inspiration.
PS; Mr. Mer is so happy to be out of his project bag and is having a quick swim around my desk. Or he is making a break for it! Have fun and keep felting!
19 “I’m out of here! See you later!”