Updated: Feb 20, 2019
The most common complaint, chronic injury, and biggest body question I receive in pole and aerial arts: what is this pain and knot under my shoulder blade? First off, I am not a doctor, but from years in pole and aerial arts and working with massage therapists, physical therapists, chiropractors and being a trainer, I know that most of this time this wonderful knot is from muscle imbalance.
The primary movement patterns in aerial arts and pole involve inverting, doing controlled pull-ups and using certain muscle groups over and over. The lats and pecs are overused and the rhomboids, traps (low traps especially) and smaller shoulder girdle muscles are underused. When the lats and pecs get stronger, they also get tighter. The tightness of the lats and pecs will actually pull on the rhomboids, traps and even trigger the levator scapulae (this is the neck pain many of us have experienced). These smaller muscles are often underdeveloped and cannot keep up with the powerhouse muscles. Bigger muscles are always going to try to take over the workload and yes, bigger muscles are stronger. The body and mind often need to be trained to fire the smaller muscles in unison with the bigger muscle groups to help create balance. The entire musclar system works together, if one muscle group is not in balance it will likely affect other muscle groups. Overdeveloped muscles will get tight and strain underdeveloped, underdeveloped will stop firing or knot up or force another muscle to over work.
The Rhomboid Knot
The infamous knot under the shoulder blade is often from the tight lats pulling on the weak rhomboids and causing the shoulder blades to lock up. The range of motion in the shoulder blades often becomes limited. Learning correct engagement when performing upper body intense movement in aerial arts and pole can save hours of pain.
Scapular Retraction and Shoulder Depression
For any upper body movement there must be good form, aerialists and polers need to engage the upper back in scapular retraction and shoulder depression. Scapular retraction means shoulder blades squeeze inward activating the rhomboids, middle and lower traps with smaller shoulder girdle muscles. Shoulder depression means shoulders down and back, activating the lower traps and releasing the upper traps. This combination (scapular retraction and shoulder depression) is crucial for good form and injury prevention in pole and aerial arts. When the body has this combination activated it relieves the pecs and lats from full duty and helps stop overdevelopment in the pecs, lats and upper traps. It also develops the rhomboids, lower traps and shoulder muscles so they are not underdeveloped and more susceptible to injury and imbalance issues.
To Read more about tight pecs and lats
Overused Upper Trapezius
The other related muscular issue that pops up, literality, for polers and aerialists is overusing the upper trapezius. When you shrug your shoulders you activate the upper traps. Many of us hold tension in our shoulders and raise the shoulders toward the ears unconsciously. The overuse pattern may not just be in aerial arts or pole classes and training, it can come from daily activities. If we sit at a computer, the forward position of the body and any lifting of the shoulders will also trigger the traps. Stress at home or at work can cause subtle elevation of the traps as well. Mix constant elevation with improper engagement during class or training time and there will be a recipe for upper back pain, over worked traps and neck pain.
Pole Lifts Versus Aerial Lifts
In pole, the hands are frequently stacked on top of each other or gripping on the same vertical plane. In aerial yoga, many silks moves, aerial hoop and trapeze the hands are placed on the same horizontal plane. Allowing for more depth in engagment in scapular retraction. It is actually harder to engage the lower traps correctly for inversions, pull-ups and any forward lift movement on the more vertical grips of the pole.
Our next post will show some awesome ways to fix the rhomboid knot, the elevated upper traps and how to find balance in the upper back. Corrective Exercises to Fix Upper Back Imbalances