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Shiatsu blog: Love your shoulders with shiatsu

I reckon if you asked a group of people who has shoulder issues you'd fill the room with conversation! I don't even think of myself as a person with shoulder pain but the moment I shrug them I feel aches and groans :)

Many realise they have tension in their shoulders, or they feel tight, frozen, and can cause neck pain too, there is just so much going on in your shoulders, but is it what you think it is?

Meet the small intestine channel, along with the gallbladder meridian they both work they way around the shoulder, through the shoulder, up the neck and into the head. If you've had a shiatsu you will have heard these channels mentioned; but why are we talking about the gut running through your shoulders and does it bare any relevance?

Every body holds tension but we hold it in different places in the body. Some the neck and shoulders, some the diaphragm and others the pelvis. The diaphragm can constrict across the body and affect the working of the gut - the stomach and small intestine specifically (plus liver and gallbladder are in the mix too). For others the tension lower down can then affect the large intestine. What this means then is that tension in the body can affect the shoulders too, gut issues can refer pain upwards.

This was made so clear to me the other year when a client came for shiatsu after having a laparoscopy hysterectomy, she was pumped full of gas for key hole surgery. Women are warned that afterwards they can have intense shoulder pain and they're given peppermint in some for to help relieve. Peppermint works on digestion and dispersing gas. So why do people get excrutiating shoulder pain when they're full of gas?

The gas is caught in the abdomin with no place to go, it causes pressure on the vital organs - small intestine, liver and gallbladder as well as all the others organs in the cavity. This is a very clear example of inflammation/swelling/pressure in the gut radiating to the shoulders and giving you unexplained pain So it makes you think if you have any digestive issues, can this be why my shoulders have pain?


Coming back to localised shoulder problems there is an interplay between the strength of the shoulder muscles and the strength of the neck muscles. You need both to be strong and supple for a good working system. However if one is weak the other compensates. This is why most people can do one thing with one shoulder and not the other, they work differently, one is weak, the other tight. I can tell this in treatments as the weak side wants slow deep pressure and warmth and the tighter side likes warmth and stretching (as long as it's not inflammed - then it won't want shiatsu at all!) . I recently had a client waiting to come back for a treatment on his shoulder but he couldn't, his shoulder was inflammed and wanted icing everyday for nearly a month. Then one day he didn't want the cold, it was suddenly too painful, this is when the healing had switched from the acute inflammtory stage to a potentially chronic condition where is muscles were 'held' and becoming frozen; this was the right time to come for shiatsu, and by the end of that session his shoulder was feeling comfortable to move again.

This brings us to the condition most shoulders are in when they arrive for shiatsu - long term chronic issues. Cold tight muscles had led to a lack of blood flow, muscles have weakened and neck muscles have over compensated and become tight and painful.

Your neck and shoulders are like an old fashioned triangle tent with a central pole and guy ropes. The central pole is your neck and the guy ropes the shoulder muscles. If these are slack or too tight they pull the pole off to one side. Problem is that the pole has to remain exactly upright, the pole is your neck and it's holding up your head, which wants to maintain balance. This starts causing all your muscles to go out of alignment and if the shoulders aren't sorted then the neck muscles becomes rigid trying to do the best to keep you upright.


When a lot of shoulders arrive looking for some TLC and relief from pain they are often fearful. They fear moving as it may cause more pain, they may spend nights locked into a position to try and aid sleep, I don't think there is a joint that can become more frozen through human will power than the shoulder. These shoulders maybe holding it altogether because life is difficult right now, or they may be 'shouldering' the burden of another situation. Grief plays it's part too, causing you to close down which shortens tendons in the chest and puts unnecessary pressure across the back of your shoulders. Your shoulders are your protection, they can lock into position like armour, but the issue here is letting them know when they can be relieved of duty. This is where shiatsu is absolutely perfect!

If you're coming for a shiatsu you know you want to help your shoulders get better, but what you may not realise is that a lot of emotions are now trapped in these muscles, and it doesn't want to budge. Even if you're angry about something, if you hold it in your shoulders then the tension becomes something like a spring loaded trap!


Is give them some TLC, shiatsu style. Before I came across shiatsu I went for deep tissue massage, that's what you do when you have knots isn't it? I'd have them pummelled out, that sweet agony of pain, felt the relief for a few days then *bing* it was back again. Knots are a protection against a weakness, there is something else wrong if you have them. Shiatsu knows this and so it has a peak underneath to see what the weakness is; is it physical, or is it emotional. Shiatsu carefully tip toes around the body seeing if it can offer support in places that will strengthen the shoulders so that they feel secure enough to start releasing. That's the reason why your legs/feet are normally worked before your shoulders :)

I think shiatsu is not only the best thing you can do for your shoulders, its the best thing you can do for your mind and body as a whole. If life's stressors build up in your shoulders, gut or pelvis (and it's going to be one of these 3) how do you destress what you can't see, understand or link? Shiatsu can, it has the back ground of 5000 old chinese medicine to base its understanding on.

The more I practise shiatsu the more wondrous it is at explaining the body; 'Shiat-su' just means finger pressure in Japanese, it's a branch off chinese medicine and uses the same theory model as acupuncture and Tui-Na. The difference though is that the finger pressure is gentle and listening. It's listening to what's going on in your body; it can hear shy, weak, fearful muscles and coax them out of hiding.

It knows whether something is weak or tight, brittle or exhausted, and then it knows how to support it, nourish it and start it on its path back to life. You can literally hold your emotions in your muscles (and I use the word 'literally' literally!). Clients don't realise they are 'holding' but the subconscious has kicked in and is working to protect body from more pain. if left undealt with this will get more and more painful. There comes a point when medicines don't work, and you just shouldn't be taking meds for muscle issues, it should be dealt with in understanding physical therapy. Most western meds only know how to cool down, think paracetamol for a temperature.

If you have a red throbbing injury, painkillers and antiinflammatories will help as they will cool the injury down, and there is a right time for this. Sprains/strains/breaks need RICE (Rest, ice, compression, elevation) but older injuries do not, and repetitious chronic injuries don't either. Once past the acute stage injuries need warmth, nourishment and encouragement to work normally again. It is dangerous to allow over compensation with other muscles, that will really pull you out of alignment as your body tries to maintain its balance.

Once an injury is past the acute stage you should be working the muscles to get them into prime condition again and if you don't you end up with a classic 'frozen shoulder'. It's exactly that, a shoulder you now can't move after months of daren't move it now doesn't. The muscles are locked, tight, cold. There is minimal blood flow and this will cause issues further along the limb, thumbs may start to lock or wrists become clicky and achy, there is always a knock on effect. Healthy shoulders mean healthy arms, hands, fingers, neck, head .... you get the picture. I'm not even going to start on headaches and migraines, they will be the body's response to a life of shoulder muscle problems and now tight constricted neck muscles which either traps too much heat in your head, or leaves you cold and drained. Both types of headache are miserable and require different types of therapy.

This gives you a flavour of how shoulders can have a knock on effect to your whole body, pain can radiate down the back muscles too, as a major muscle call the 'Trapezius' holds up your neck. If your right shoulder is in crisis, your left hip will get involved and vice versa. If hips are out, then you could end up with knee, ankle or heel pain. To come full circle if you have gut issues you can have shoulder pain, everything is linked and should not be dealt with in isolation. The beauty of the shiatsu and chinese medicine model is that it is holistic, it treats the body as whole and it doesn't separate out mental health either, your emotions are embedded in your body, and you body (specifically the gut) can make your emotions.

It's February, people think Valentines, so what better way to give yourself some love and selfcare, in fact shiatsu is like a giant hug - so give a shiatsu or have a shiatsu and you'll be on the path to neverending good health!

Contact Andrea for a free health and vitality call if you're putting up with shoulder pain when you shouldn't be. You can either had a shiatsu in person or a video 'self shiatsu' session.

Check you can do these 2 things with your shoulders and if you struggle, you need shiatsu:

Randomly jiggle your shoulders - like you're doing a shimmy in a Samba on Strictly. If you can't shimmy your shoulders are tight.

One shoulder at a time lift it up and roll it backwards and down (opening the front of the chest). Which one is more difficult? That'll be your tighter shoulder.

If you're at your desk a lot, stretch your shoulders back, opening the chest, this will bring relief to your shoulder blades. You can reinforce it by gripping the handles of your chair to increase the stretch across the front. If you can hold this for between 40 seconds and 2 minutes, you will feel the relief in your shoulders :)


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