The connection between your upper and lower body tension

What is going on in your lower leg is also happening in your neck and shoulders.

Are you working away at reducing tension in your neck and shoulders, but not seeing a difference? Or, are you calf stretching every day, wearing shoes with no heels, but STILL have tight calves? Perhaps it is time to look at the whole body and get a better understanding of how the tension at one end of the body impacts the other.

Here’s one reason why your lower leg is impacting your neck…

Shoes

Yes, even those cushy, comfy, ‘supportive’ shoes.

Why are they involved?
1. They have a heel which puts the ankle into constant plantarflexion (toes pointed).
2. Toe bed is elevated, keeping the toes slightly lifted off the ground
3. Stiff soles prevent all the small joints in the foot from moving well
4. Narrow toe box forces the toes together (bunions anyone?).

The degree to which 1-4 happen varies depending on the type of shoe, but it isn’t limited to high heels. It happens in those $150 running kicks you got from a shoes expert at your local running store.

Think about the shoes you wear most often…running shoes, dansko clogs, 2″ heels from DSW, etc.

When you are wearing stiff soles, heeled footwear with a narrow toe box you create adaptation in the joints of your feet and ankles. Adaptation isn’t a positive shift. It means less mobility.

 

Tension in the Calves

The connection between tension between the lower neck and the shoulder neck, continuing…muscles in the calf.

Not only are our feet impacted by shoes, but our calves are as well. Heels (of any kind, remember, not just high heels) create a shortening in the calf muscles.

Sitting also creates a shortening in the muscles.

We ALL have chronic shortening in the muscles of the lower leg.

This shortening impacts our gait (how we walk). For many of us, our short calves mean we have what is called a ‘negative stride length’, meaning the heel of the foot of the leg that stays behind when you step forward can’t stay on the ground long enough to allow you to push off posteriorly (using your glutes and hams). Instead, you are doing a process of falling forward and catching yourself when you walk.

Why a wave can help explain things

This picture shows a wave in the distance where the water is moving at the same (or close to it) speed. Then it shows waves at the shore that are breaking – the top is moving over the bottom as they crash forward.

The waves break at the shore because the lower part of the water is encountering the rising shore line which slows it down. That slow down creates a whip-like effect at the top of the wave propelling it forward until the top part of the wave falls forward and crashes into the shore.

Our bodies are like these waves. The tension, stickiness (highly technical term!) and lack of mobility in the joints of our feet and ankle make our lower body move more slowly as we walk. Our upper body should be propelled forward by that slow down BUT we know falling forward is a bad idea SO we create extra tension in the upper body to keep ourselves upright. You won’t be aware that you are doing this it is happening on a pretty subtle level.

Is this the only reason you have upper body and lower body tension? No, definitely not, but if you are working on it consistently and not seeing any changes, this is an important factor to investigate!

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