Reaching

We all reach many more times that we might realize.  Our bodies get really good at reaching.  We reach accurately and often move rather heavy items when we reach.

Reaching requires us to stabilize our spine, move and then set our shoulder blades to make a platform for the arm muscles and hand muscles to move to the object of our reach.

Problems arise when the stability of the spine and shoulder blade are lost if they move too much to assist the reach.  Whenever the shoulder blade moves too far forward or gets more “stuck” to the arm than to the spine, the stability of the spine gets compromised and the muscles of the arm begin to tighten excessively.  That tension easily leads to problems with the nerves and muscles of the hand and arms.

Correct reaching should include some tension between the shoulder blades to stabilize them to the spine and thus to help stabilize the spine.  Imagine a string attached to your thumb that is also attached to your sternum (breast-bone) in the middle of your chest.  As you reach your hand forward, the string pulls your chest forward as well.  If you do this correctly, you should feel some tension developing between your shoulder blades even as your hand goes forward.  If you exaggerated this motion you might feel your spine straighten as you reach and the back of your neck lengthening with the reach.

Incorrect reaching allows the shoulder blades to move away from the midline of the spine.  Often this happens when the spine is slouched or poorly supported.  Try slouching in your chair and then notice how if you reach forward the shoulder blade is being controlled by a muscle on the top of your shoulder (the Upper Trapezius) rather than by the muscles between your shoulder blades (the Middle Trapezius and Lower Trapezius).  Notice how difficult it is to keep the back of your neck long and straight.

Correct reaching then begins with correct posture.  Frequently correcting your posture to get good low back support and to lengthen the back of your neck in your sitting work posture are keys to appreciating correct reaching mechanics.

Finally it is important that most of the items that you regularly use in the course of your work are within easy reach.  See the Handout titled “The Safety Zone” to understand what is meant by easy reach.

After all reaching should be easy and should not become a source of irritation to the nerves and muscles of your arms and hands.