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In Part 1 of Key Steps to Muscle Care, we discussed some of the many stresses of holiday travel. Now that you’re going to plan ahead, bring your own snacks, water bottle, and have packed your foam roller, let’s take a look at the upper body. Part 1 focused on lower body because if the lower body doesn’t work then upper body doesn’t stand a chance.

The human body is what is known as the “Kinetic Chain”. As the name implies, the body is a series of moving parts that are all intimately linked to one another.   It is an interconnected unit that relies on the proper function of all parts in order to move optimally and stay pain free. This means if an ankle or foot can’t move properly (due to foot wear or a previous injury; yes, even the ankle sprain you had when you were 15) something else will take up the slack.

A great example of this is to look at how the foot is connected to the head. Many call it different things—trains, lines or sub-systems—but the point is that the body is connected by muscles, thick bones, and other connective tissues such as ligaments, tendons, and fascia. To state it simply this line of muscles and connective tissue proceeds as follows (start from the bottom):

4. Muscles (spinal erectors) attach to the sacrum, run up the length of the spine and attach to the base of skull.

3. The ligament (sacrotuberous ligament)attaches to the same place the hamstrings do connecting the hamstrings to the bottom of the spine, also known as the sacrum.

2. The hamstrings also attach the lower leg, pass the calf muscles, sharing some muscle fibers along the way, and proceed up the femur and attach to the hip bone.

1. The calf and peroneal muscles attach to the foot, come up the lower leg and attach to the upper leg bone (femur).

Holiday Traveling Woes - part 2 - kinetic chain

This entire series of muscles is essentially one long, continuous piece of connective tissue that has various small attachments to the skeleton on the way up. Therefore, if the ankle doesn’t move correctly then muscles of the lower leg don’t shorten and lengthen correctly, nor do the muscles of the upper leg, nor do the muscles in the back, and where do you think the tension ends up? You guessed it, the neck.

The point is that your neck might hurt, but “criminals don’t cry out”. The neck didn’t cause the pain, it is simply where the pain is felt.

If that’s true, then why does massaging the neck make it feel better? Researchers and scientists have created several sets of principles that are based around how the body works. One of those has to deal with the nervous system in what is known as the “all or none principle”. This means that nerves either fire or they don’t fire, there is no in between. Like a light switch, your options or on or off. You can’t be both on and off. Pain is either felt or it isn’t. Sure there are varying degrees of pain, but you either feel something or you don’t. The nervous system either fires the signal that says “PAIN” or it doesn’t.

When the signal that says “PAIN” is firing, any small disruption can stop the signal momentarily. If your neck is hurting, for example, and you rub it vigorously the signal is disrupted and the pain stops. This is something you have been doing for years without realizing it. Remember the last time you bumped your knee or our elbow?

However, in the scenario of pain in the absence of an event or trauma, the pain usually comes back. The moral of the story is that unless you had an injury to your neck or shoulder, the neck tension or pain is likely due to something not moving correctly down the chain.

Once you have practiced releases for your lower body and you’re ready to move on, here are some travel-friendly upper body releases!

All of the following can be done in the car or on the plane, as long as you aren’t the driver or the pilot. Each release will take approximately 1 minute make sure to breath and relax throughout the process.

Massage Ball | Upper Backholidaywoes_t-spine

  1. Position either one or two TriggerPoint Massage Balls on the muscles next to the spine (not on the spine). Pressure can be applied by pressing back into the chair. Or, if you are able to get on the ground and use body weight pressure that will allow for a better release.
  2. Once the preferred amount of pressure is obtained, begin by crossing the arms in from of the chest and performing 4 rotating motions (imagine you are giving yourself a big hug). Remember to rotate slow and breathe. Then, perform motions through the shoulder by slowly.

Massage Ball | Chestholidaywoes_pectorals

  1. Position one TriggerPoint Massage Ball on the muscles of the chest, near the shoulder. Place the hands on top of each other and raise the elbows to shoulder height. Apply pressure by pushing into the chest.
  2. Once the preferred amount of pressure is obtained, begin by performing 4 pivoting motions with the Massage Ball. After the 4th motion performing 2 pulling motions by lighting gripping the ball and pulling to the same side arm pit. It is important to remember to initiate the pulling motion by squeezing the shoulder blades.

T-Roller | Traps 


Position the wheel of the T-Roller at the top of the upper trapezius muscle. Apply pressure by pressing the roller into the muscle.

  1. Once the preferred amount of pressure is obtained, begin by pulling the T-Roller towards the shoulder and then rolling back to the staring position, repeat this 4 times. As you are rolling try to pay attention to any extra tender spots along the muscle.
  2. Next, remove pressure from the wheel and use the ‘AcuGRIP’ handle to apply direct compression to the tender spots. Hold these for 20-30 seconds and perform 2 pivoting motions.

Similar to the lower body, plan on rolling these areas for a minute each, at least twice a day and up to every two to three hours, to help prevent the pain as opposed to simply managing it. However, I am willing to bet that if you are addressing your lower body first you will not need to spend as much time on these.