Nov 4, 2021
Stretches & Exercises

Why Chest Stretches Aren’t Enough: Press on This Muscle

Why Chest Stretches Aren’t Enough: Press on This Muscle

There are tons of benefits attached to stretching. One of them is to help you increase your range of motion as well as improve your flexibility. The increased blood flow to your muscles means that you get a natural performance boost when you participate in physical activities.

But have you ever noticed that you can stretch one day but the next day you’re back to square one? Maybe that pain around your neck and shoulders only gets temporary relief. Your initial response would be to stretch, but it doesn't seem to have much effect.

If your chest stretches have only been helping temporarily, this is because the underlying causes of the pain and tightness you are experiencing requires a different solution.

Causes of chest tension

There are two main causes of tight chest muscles. One is motion tightness, and the other is tension tightness. Motion tightness means a muscle is not extending to its full length: for example, you want to touch your toes, but your hamstrings are too “tight”. Your brain may be holding onto this muscle and keeping it from fully extending.

On the other hand, tension tightness indicates your muscles are having tension throughout, even when you are not engaging them. At rest, a healthy muscle is soft and supple. You may be able to make movements with these muscles, but it will feel like they are tight or knotted.

Your daily habits may be contributing to tight chest muscles. The biggest culprit is your posture. Poor posture places sustained strain on a muscle, or muscle group. Over time, your brain learns to hold the tension to support your hunched posture, for better or for worse. This leads to forward head posture, or tech neck, leaving your neck supported by muscles instead of your spine and creates headaches, neck stiffness, shoulder pain, and even migraines.

Causes may include:

  • Excessive driving
  • Laptop/keyboard use
  • Cell phone use: texting/scrolling
  • Stress and trauma
  • Carrying heavy loads for extended times (i.e. baby on the hip)

Here's why you have rounded shoulders

When you look at yourself in the mirror, you may not appreciate the side view. This is because you look as if you've hunched forward; like a cartoon witch.

There are many reasons as to why you have such a posture. It could be from all the time you spend on your computer or handheld device, but the main culprit is continuous tension in one key muscle in your chest.

The pectoralis minor is a muscle that attaches to the shoulder and the ribs. The muscle's main function is to stabilize and to help protract the shoulders. It also plays a part in lifting the ribs whenever you inhale.

Each time you experience tension tightness in this muscle, it pulls your shoulders forward, making you look like you are hunching. This marks the beginning of posture issues and that desire to constantly stretch your chest.

How to find the pectoralis minor muscle

First, place the palm of your hand over your heart and have your fingertips underneath your collarbone close to the shoulder. Then, while keeping your torso still, reach the fingertips of your straight arm to the floor. You’ll feel a muscle in your chest tighten and contract. This is your pec minor muscle.

woman pressing into pec minor muscle using her hand

How pressure helps relieve tight chest muscles

You can get some temporary relief by using any chest and shoulder stretch for the muscle experiencing tension tightness. You can remedy the situation by applying some pressure to the tight muscle.

Note that tension tightness occurs when your brain recalibrates to accommodate the new hunched posture. Once you place pressure on the muscle, you effectively cause it to relax. However, it is your brain that needs rewiring to allow the muscle to relax completely.

As such, placing pressure on the affected muscle regularly will help teach your brain how to let go, and to completely release the tightness in the muscle.

Why do you have neck and shoulder pain?

The problem with rounded shoulders is, it doesn't only affect your posture and the pectoralis minor, it also has a domino effect on other muscles and nerves around your head and neck.

Rounded shoulders means your neck has to adjust by leaning forward and downward to keep you balanced and looking ahead. In turn, this ends up compressing the muscles and nerves at the base of your skull. Rounded shoulders also cause issues with your rotator cuff muscles, which results in a slightly depressed range of motion for your shoulder joints.

Also, the kind of work you do tends to be asymmetrical. Looking at a monitor, holding a baby, or using a mouse and other tasks mean you place more work on one side of your body than the other. Subsequently, you create a repetitive twist through the spine, creating strain and tension on either side. The strain, in turn, causes you to hold tension in the muscles supporting your shoulder.

Your brain will want to maintain balance, so it forces your head to compensate for the side where your shoulder is experiencing tension tightness. You end up stressing one side of the aforementioned muscles. When these muscles are strained, they cause referral pain. You may begin to feel headaches and eye pain. In addition, you place pressure on the nerves at the base of your skull.

There’s a lot happening there! And it can be traced back to tension in the pec minor muscle!

Chest stretches and muscle release

The best way to relax tight muscles is through direct, prolonged pressure. What you need is a tool that can help you address the root cause of chest tension. This means applying pressure to key muscles for prolonged periods of 90 seconds. You can do this with a tennis ball or a specialized tool like the Nuckle, designed to isolate and release these specific muscles. With the right tool, you can easily isolate the small but powerful muscle groups, relieve tension and hunching in your shoulders, and hold your head high.

man using Nuckle tool to relieve tight chest muscles

FAQs about tight chest muscles and chest stretches

What are the best chest openers?

The best chest openers aren’t stretches: it’s pressure applied to the pec muscles. Tight muscles need pressure to send the message to the brain that it’s safe to relax.

How do I get rid of rounded shoulders?

Stretching will only provide temporary relief for rounded shoulders; applying pressure to the pec minor muscles will allow the shoulders to release tension and realign.

How do I improve posture and rounded shoulders?

Tension in the pec minor muscles is responsible for rounded shoulders. Releasing these muscles by applying direct pressure is the best way to allow your shoulders to realign.