Yoga Tune Up® Blog


When Your Pec Minor Becomes A Major Pain

A student in one of my Yoga Tune Up® therapy ball classes pulled me aside after class recently to ask about nagging tightness that she was having at the front of her shoulder. Knowing her as a student, I am aware that she is both working on her PhD dissertation and is regularly powerlifting. Whoa. Between the keyboard and the barbell, that’s a whole lotta internal rotation of the shoulder! It’s no wonder she was pointing, with a grimace I might add, directly at her pec minor. Looking even casually at her shoulder girdle it was apparent that her shoulders appeared rounded forward from the pec minor pulling the scapula forward into protraction, and downwardly rotated towards the front of her chest. Even the inferior angle of her scapula was sticking out noticeably.

Her main complaint, along with the pain and tightness, was that she felt she had “slumped” posture from sitting at her computer for so long. She tried to resolve this by shoving her mid thoracic spine forward towards her sternum, in a mock exaggeration of “perfect” 1950’s military posture. Not only does this flatten the mid thoracic curve (which is designed to support our spines in a way to keep strain out of our neck and shoulders), but it also does nothing to address her shoulder placement. While her shoulders may feel farther back because of the distortion she’s created with her spine, those little pec minors are, in fact, still shortened and giving her the appearance of slumped shoulders. All she’s doing is layering overworked paraspinal muscles on top of it all!

So what’s a brainy powerlifter to do? I suggested that she use her Yoga Tune Up® therapy balls to roll out that tight pec minor tissue (as I demonstrate in the video below). Because of her tendency to to flatten her mid thoracic curve, I also cued her to be aware not to thrust her spine forward, as an Olympic gymnast might,  as she raises her arms behind her, but instead to work to maintain neutral in her spinal alignment.

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About This Author

Brooke Thomas is a Certified Rolfer®, Yoga Tune Up® teacher, and founder of the website Soma Happy, the resource for making your body less cranky and more happy.

23 Responses to “When Your Pec Minor Becomes A Major Pain”

  1. Mary says:

    Very nice- thanks for sharing! I’ve done this release on the floor, but it’s very awkward/difficult for some clients that way. Standing upright is much better for some, and you can till get a good amount of pressure for that pesky pec!

  2. Jill D says:

    Thanks for the info Brooke! I’ve learned to pay much more attention to my pec minor and this is one of my absolute favorite areas to use the therapy balls. I partake in all those modern daily activities that lead to an over indulgence of internal rotation, so I try to be diligent about counteracting the action and using the therapy balls daily. I always receive an immediate response when using the therapy balls on the pec minor – when checking in after one side I can visually see a difference. I also feel more ease in my breath, more spacious across the front body and able to externally rotate more freely. Really love it. I also incorporate this into my pre-workout warmup, especially if I will be lifting weight overhead.

  3. Ann says:

    I love this one. I DO have a job where I spend the better part of every day typing, shoulders eventually drooping forward. I can almost feel pec minor squeezing shorter! :-(. This feels wonderful at any point during the day, and really helps restore posture, movement, freedom of breath, and lots of other good stuff! Thank you, Brooke!

  4. Jessica says:

    Wonderful information – I have this same issue after working at the computer.

  5. Alex Booth says:

    I found this article very interesting as an ex powerlifter who suffered from shoulder issues. A lot of popular programming promotes high volume pressing which if not balanced out with tons of pulling work will cause all that internal rotation.
    I’ve personally used some of the techniques you described with great success. I don’t think I’d be able to do any pressing today if it weren’t for the soft tissue work and mobility I’ve done on my pecs and shoulders. An Ideal powerlifting bench arch really works to protect your shoulders preventing your elbows from going too far below your torso. As seen in this picture of Russian lifter’s crazy arch: http://sheiko-program.ru/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/Arch1.png
    This kind of set up should be practiced even on your lighter sets as it promotes stability, reduces overall ROM, and increases potential maximal loads.

  6. R.E. says:

    Well done, I find this one works really well for me. I also recommend trying the alpha ball, while laying on the floor, rotate from internal rotation to external rotation full flexion and watch the ball strum it’s way into action as well. For those looking for some additional sheer, don’t forget to pin and spin the superficial fascia.

  7. Amanda Zerbini says:

    Yes, this information and technique feels like the missing link to my shoulder issue. I followed along with the video on the ball massage technique and it already has helped. I’ll be adding that trigger point to my regular routine. Thanks!

  8. Hi Brooke, This is an excellent video and helps me find just where my pec minor is. I also appreciate the demo on the block as two students I have are so rounded forward in the shoulders that I don’t think they could maneuver working on Pec Minor on the floor. Thank you!

  9. Nicolette David says:

    What I took from this article is how powerful a skill it is to really KNOW your students–what they do for movement or even what they do for work/study. Having this little background info really allows you to tailor both therapy ball work and YTU poses for them. I also happen to Looooove this particular ball technique. Just inspired my class for tmrw. Perfect!

  10. Ariana says:

    This is one of my faves. I feel like everywhere I look I see excessive internal rotation at the shoulder joint. Including when I look in the mirror. I find this to move to be incredibly helpful to target those small but domineering pec minors. I love that you suggest placing the arm behind the back to allow the muscle to slacken a bit before massaging it with the balls.

  11. Amalea says:

    Another great video. I love the tip about internal rotation of the arm to access the pec minor with the therapy balls. My shoulders are constantly internally rotated when behind the computer. It’s nice to get some relief.

  12. Great video – clear content and relaxed demo. Funny how lots of times when people “roll out” they “tense up” at the same time. I find a lot of the ball work is great to do at the wall as you showed so people can more easily find structures and stay relaxed and exploratory while rolling out. And I agree the pec minor is such a valuable structure to address to help folks out of the all-too-common schlump.

  13. ellen says:

    Brooke, thanks for sharing these great tips and demo. The YTU balls can “get in there” like modality I know of as of print. The relief is almost immediate after the drill. Thanks.

  14. Lisa Cassidy says:

    Wow, that description could have been about me minus the (powerlifting and PhD haha!) I have shoulder tightness from a guarding and positional comfort when I had a c-spine injury a couple of years ago that made my right arm go numb and shooting pain down my arm. I could not do much with my arm, other than keep it cradled in one position like it was in a sling. As I started to heal, I had no strength in my right arm and did a lot of compensating. This has created an internal rotation and makes my scapula stick out. The therapy balls and Shoulder Shape Up DVD from Jill’s Yogalink series have helped tremendously.

  15. Allison Shapiro says:

    So amazing what just a few minutes with the therapy balls does. I thought all my tension was in my trapezius but NOOOO…lo and behold there IS tightness in my pecs too. The video was very helpful as were the YTU poses suggestions for helping with this tiny but significant muscle. Thanks!

  16. Renee holden says:

    Brooke, great article! We see far too many people with postural issues that can be corrected quite easily with specific Tune up ball exercises targeting the pec minor, with only minutes a day of rolling.small changes can make big differences , especially in the workplace with an ergonomically correct desk set up, and the knowledge of how to release the anterior muscles to bring that thoracic spine into better alignment.
    It will be interesting to see our society in 20 years, as our children now are doing for hours what we have done now as adults for only a couple of decades!

  17. Helen says:

    Thank u! I had a fall 10 years ago on my right shoulder. I Injured it enough to get an X-ray …and then on down the road a cortisone shot. Over the years I have been careful with…not realizing that was not the best medicine. A few years ago I started to really play with the ROM and saw it was capable, but fearful. YTU balls have almost brought me back to a healthy range of motion. Hoo- ra!

  18. Michelle Dalbec says:

    Brooke – This is a great article and video, THANKS! The feedback that I get from the outside world is that other admire my posture. Until recently I thought I had optimal posture and while I’m close, I’ve come to realize how unbalance my shoulders are. Through lots of looking/feeling deep within during many practice I have become aware of two major imbalances: that the muscles of my chest are very tight, pulling the shoulder forward which is resulting in the muscles of my upper back (serratus posterior superior and rhomboids) doing overtime work to deal with my shoulder placement. I am committed to bringing myself back into proper alignment and I am very grateful to have the Yoga Tune Up practice to help me get there.

  19. Hey Giancarla thanks for the great question! In my opinion, we should work our tissue (via therapy ball work like this or of course other YTU work to organize the shoulder girdle) so that our shoulders don’t have to do anything in pedestrian life! If you look at a skeleton, you’ll see that the bony architecture of our shoulders is designed to just sit there, like glorious shoulder pads. The clavicle into the scapula allows for the arms to just hang naturally, without any efforting. Now the rest of us have a good deal more living soft tissue than the plastic skeleton… which just means that we need to use our practice to work our shoulders into balance. When the tissue is open and balanced, viola, effortless open shoulders! Some of my other fave YTU work for this is Dancing with Myself, Matador Arm Circles, and Holy Cow at the Trough. Once we open the tissue towards balance, we should chuck all effortful movements in regular daily life. Leave the tyrrany of pinning your shoulders on your back behind and have fun!!

  20. Giancarla says:

    I need to do this like ten times a day every day of my life! Even as I am sitting at a computer right now, I cannot help but feel the tightness in the anterior of my body and with my arms straining and clenched as they are protracted forward towards the keyboard. In your opinion, what would the arms want to practice doing in pedestrian life? I would assume the opposite of the internal rotation… which is external rotation, would you also depress and adduct the shoulder actively or keep it separate? Other than rolling out the pectoralis minor and keeping the “periscope over the bony funnel” what can one actively do?

  21. Amy says:

    Just learned this YTU Ball exercise today in training – and establishing that balance from front to back makes so much sense for so many of us these days – especially with the technologies that put so many in a forward ergnomically incorrect position. I liked the reminder of how many people will try to overcorrect with the forceful extension of the thoracic spine – Thanks!

  22. Matthew says:

    Thanks Brooke, great tip! I have several students (myself included) that need work to stretch through the pec minor and balance support tension through the shoulder girdle in general. More often than not, they’re weight lifters and/or on the computer a good deal. This Therapy Ball stretch will be a great addition that I can pass along!

  23. Lauren Goodwin says:

    LOVE.THIS.EXERCISE. Luckily I don’t have a job where I have to sit at desk typing away at a computer everyday all day long, but there are a day or so a week where I do unfortunately have to do so. No matter how hard I try to maintain correct and proper posture, I always leave the desk with tightness and discomfort in my pec minor area that I just couldn’t seem to shake. Once I started doing this exercise after I would finish my “office work” I felt so much better- no ore discomfort and I didn’t feel like I was walking around like the hunchback of Notre Dame all day. Consequently, once I was able to “loosen up” y pec minor and relieve some of the shortening in those muscles, I noticed that I stopped reverting to thrusting in y thoracic spine (a la Olympic gymnasts) to compensate for the tightness and discomfort on my thoracic spine. It still amazes me how our body has such a chain reaction :-)

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Jill Miller, Creator of Yoga Tune Up®

After studying yoga, movement, and the human body for over twenty years, I created Yoga Tune Up® as a simple way to restore my body and mind, keeping me balanced and free of pain. Using a specific and unique set of poses, movements and self massage tools, you too can LIVE BETTER IN YOUR BODY WITH YOGA TUNE UP®.

 

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