Empowerment through the Doorway Stretch

Almost everyone who has ever had a massage by me has been taught the doorway stretch.  In my opinion, it is the number one most effective stretch that helps with almost every neck and shoulder problem.

We all slouch.  Our mothers and teachers may have told us to stand up straight, and some of us try to, but as soon as we stop thinking about it, our shoulders roll forward.  And it’s often all because of a muscle I like to call “sneaky little pec minor,” or more officially, pectoralis minor.  Pec minors are tiny muscles, made mostly of tendon, with small muscle bellies.  How can something so tiny cause so much trouble?  Tendonous tissue is fibrous with very little blood circulation, while muscle bellies have better circulation.  My understanding, with over 15 years experience, is that the pec minor muscle, once tight, doesn’t usually have enough good blood flow to bring in enough oxygen and nutrients to heal itself easily.  So how do we loosen pec minor?  Massage therapy and the doorway stretch.

The gentle s-like forward and backward curve of your spine is meant to support the weight of your head, but when pec minors are tight, they roll the shoulders in and forward, and the head and neck are drawn forward as well.  Once the head comes forward, it is not being supported so much by the curve of the spine, and your neck muscles, especially trapezius, are left holding your 10 to 12 pound head up all day.  This is not trapezius’s job, and it becomes fatigued and tight.  Also, when your shoulders roll forward, your shoulder joints are shaped differently and the shoulder muscles are now asked to operate in a way different than they were designed.  Their awkward incorrect position changes the leverage each muscle has as it pulls across the joint to lift or move your arm.  Injury is more likely, and injuries heal more slowly with these muscles always being under stress in their improper position.

Ideally when we stand straight, our arms should hang at the sides with our knuckles facing out to the sides, not forward.  Because pec minor tension is so common, most people’s arms hang with knuckles facing forward.  The doorway stretch will help fix this too.

Here’s how you do the doorway stretch:

Stand in a doorway, with your feet right on the threshold.  Hold your arms at right angles, like a football goalpost.  Face your palms forward.  Place your forearms and palms against the doorframe.  Put one foot forward (doesn’t matter which one), about the length of your foot.  Bend the knee of that front leg, and your body will come forward.  Your body’s weight will cause your pectoral muscles to be stretched.  You may feel it in the chest, or where the muscles attach to your upper arms.  Breathe deeply and be still as you stretch.

Stand in threshold, arms at 90 degrees, palms forward, one foot slightly forward, bend front knee slightly, and breathe deeply.

My teacher at massage school, Scott Coleman, taught me this stretch many years ago.  He said, “Every time you walk through a doorway is an opportunity to do the doorway stretch.”

I recommend you do this daily, for one minute, or at least five deep breaths.  Ideally, do it three times per day, especially if you’d like better posture or relief from neck, shoulder, and upper back stiffness.

I can do a lot for you in your massage session, but to get the most out of it, do your self-care homework.  Do your doorway stretch, because self-care can be done daily and it powerfully carries on the changes we are creating through your treatments.  You and I are a team.  That’s part of the beauty of natural healthcare and preventative maintenance.  You are empowered.