When a muscle is forced to remain in a shortened position for a long period of time it becomes chronically shortened. Poor posture causes adaptive muscle shortening. Most people have adaptively short muscles of the chest, front of the neck, front of the shoulders and upper arms. When you slump your head and shoulders forward day after day, certain muscles become chronically shortened. These muscles include the pectorals, the anterior deltoids, the scalenes, and the coracobrachialis.
So what’s the problem? In many cases the chronically shortened muscles will not complain. But there are other consequences to adaptive muscle shortening of the chest and anterior shoulder muscles such as poor breathing, headaches and circulation problems.
The chronically shortened muscles on the front of the chest and shoulders put a constant pulling force on the muscles of the posterior neck and upper back. These back muscles then become overstretched and weak. The overstretched muscles are the ones that hurt. That is the reason why so many people suffer muscle pain in the back of the neck and upper back muscles.
Relaxing massage provides temporary relief from this pain because it does not correct the problem. To get permanent relief from pain caused by adaptive shortening you must stretch the shortened muscles and enable them to remain at a neutral resting length.
The way to do this is first to see an orthopedic massage therapist who knows how to balance muscle groups, second to permanently correct your posture, and third to practice daily corrective exercises.
Why should you start first with orthopedic massage? The reason is because chronically shortened muscles interfere with your ability to perform exercise correctly and when exercise is not correctly executed it does little good.
After your orthopedic massage therapist has stretched-out the shortened muscles you will be shown how to maintain good posture (and you will be able to do it!). Your therapist will also teach you how to strengthen the muscles that have been overstretched and weak.
What will happen if you just ignore the posture problems that lead to adaptive muscle shortening? In general, the problem becomes worse and the pain increases. Also, more serious problems can develop like peripheral nerve pain caused when the shortened muscles put too much compressive force on the underlying nerves.