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Hours of hunching over your computer can tighten your chest, especially your fascia that covers your pec muscles. This network of fibrous tissues lies just beneath your skin and covers and intertwines with your muscles, blood vessels, nerves and joints. When you take a stretching break, stretch the chest fascia as well as your muscles.
What Is Fascia?
Fasciae are fibrous connective tissues that behave like a sheet of clingy plastic wrap surrounding a piece of ham. They can get as tight as muscles, whether they are shortened or stretched. Unlike muscles, a fascia's elasticity can influence other fasciae that are distant from it. For example, if you pull the left side of your shirt diagonally toward the floor, you will feel the right upper sleeve pull also. Fasciae also distribute stress over the span of the fascia sheath when they stretch or compress, according to massage therapist Thomas Myers, author of "Anatomy Trains." Depending on the duration and intensity of the stress, the fascia can either revert to its original, prestressed form or stay in the new stretched form -- like stretched gum.
Move It or Lose It
Chest fasciae can get stiff if you don't move the muscles and nearby joints. It sticks to joints and muscle fibers and can prevent you from moving freely. Not only does your chest get tight, your shoulders, neck, trapezius, ribs, upper spine and other nearby muscles and joints can get tight and lose their mobility. Besides stretching your chest, move your shoulders, spine, arms and neck to free other surrounding fasciae.
Stretching the Chest
Stretch your chest fascia and muscles by standing in a doorway and putting your forearms, hands and elbows against the sides of the doorjamb. Stand with one foot in front of the other. As you exhale slowly, lean your body forward to stretch your chest. Your shoulder blades should pull together without conscious effort. Hold the stretch for five to six deep breaths as you relax your neck and chest. Switch leg positions and repeat the stretch.
Beyond Just Stretching
Sometimes stretching your chest fascia isn't enough to free that tightness near your heart. Physical therapist Gray Cook suggests that stiffness in your upper spine limits your spine and shoulders' ability to move freely, which can contribute to a tight chest. Doing upper-spine exercises, such as the Cat-and-Cow pose or the kneeling upper-spine rotation. After you do these exercises, stretch your chest again to see whether you experience any chest release.