Rounded Shoulders and Elbow Tension


I often observe a particular pattern of tension in nurses, mothers, and caregivers in general. It's a pattern of being ready to help at a moment’s notice.

If you have this habit, you’re likely to complain about neck and shoulder discomfort. The source, however, may be lower down in your arms. I feel it in my elbows. Earlier today I had hauled two heavy bags up the many steps to my home and put the groceries down to open the door and let in the cats. When I bent down to pick the groceries up again, my elbows were already flexed in readiness for my continued journey to the kitchen.  Although I had set down the bags , I hadn’t really let go of them.

This type of tension is particularly apparent when we’re trying to get a number of things accomplished in a short time. We mentally and emotionally project our hands and arms into the future.



Elbow tension manifests along what Thomas Myers has identified as the “deep front arm line.” This line begins at the thumb, which is the digit responsible for the human ability to grasp and manipulate things.

From the thumb, the “DFAL” travels along the flexor group of the lower arm, overlaps the distal end of the biceps brachii muscle on the radius, follows the short head of the biceps to the coracoid process of the scapula and drops down to the upper ribs along the pectoralis minor muscle and fascia. When this line is foreshortened, it pulls the shoulder blades inward and down, narrowing the upper chest and compressing the upper thoracic vertebrae. Further, ligamentous connections between the coracoid process and the clavicle can draw the head forward by way of the sternocleidomastoid muscles and associated fascia. This addendum to the DFAL draws the base of the skull and the thumb towards one another—the hand to the eyes, hand to mouth.



When humans run, they naturally flex the arms at the elbows, shortening the upper extremities so they can move apace with the fast moving legs.  Flexion at the elbows can be appropriately linked with moving fast. It’s fine if you’re really running, but if you’re only running around metaphorically, elbow tension contributes to an overall bodily compression that degrades posture and movement. Not least, it diminishes your “elbow room”--your freedom to reach or push your hands freely in any direction—forward, up and away; or back, down and out, etc.


If you’re plagued by neck and shoulder tension, tune in to your elbows. When you let your arms hang at your sides, do your elbows relax and fully straighten? Or do you sense a slight tension in your forearm? If you do, begin challenging yourself let go of your elbows when you move from one task to another. A sequence of tasks can be as mundane as brushing your teeth, making the bed, and turning on the electric kettle. As you move from room to room, let your arms hang loose enough to swing a bit. Notice whether that release grants a bit of lift to your neck and upper spine. (Note: I’m not suggesting that you lock your elbows to straighten them—that would present another set of problems.) At the computer, try resting your hands on your lap as you read and think. Really rest them:  feel their weight on your thighs.

There’s nothing wrong with being ready to act, so long as your readiness doesn’t manifest as perpetually high tonus in your body. Readiness tension most likely occurs when you’re tightly focused on a destination or goal. At such moments your eyes ignore the peripheral context of your body and its actions. (The supporting effect of peripheral vision is illustrated in my DVD, Heal Your Posture.)

Awareness of tension in your elbows can be a handy reminder about living in the present tense.

© 2015 Mary Bond