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Planning Retirement Online

Home Exercise and Rehab

August 2013


Gina John

Gina John is a Pilates Practitioner and Registered Osteopath who has spent many years offering help and advice, especially to the over 50 age group.

She is founder of The Osprey Clinic in the St. Johns Wood area of London and now specialises in Home Exercise and Rehabilitation Programmes. For further advice on exercising safely, and a selection of exercise films for general fitness and medical conditions, visit the website:



This month: Shoulders Fit for Dog Walking

Q: Whenever I walk my dog, I feel fine while we are out enjoying our walk. But, about 1 hour later, the side of my neck and jaw aches as well as my shoulders. Should I be doing some exercise, to prevent these symptoms? 

Certainly with larger dogs, owners may feel that they are the ones being taken for the walk!
When the dog pulls on the lead and you have to restrain your willful companion, this can put excessive strain on the neck and shoulder muscles.

If you are trying to resist the forward pull of your arms, the shoulder girdle muscles and those at the front of the neck and possibly the jaw too, will contract forcefully to avoid straining the small joints in the neck, the intervertebral joints.

Strengthening the muscles at the back of your arms and around the shoulder blades, and keeping a good upright posture while walking the dog, will help to avoid straining your neck, jaw and shoulder muscles.

Scapular stabilization is a method of strengthening the muscles which fix the shoulder blades to the rib cage, so that your arm and neck muscles are able to function more efficiently.
As well as being an effective approach to shoulder rehabilitation, is a training approach used by sports people to avoid injury to the tendons around the shoulders which occur commonly with repetitive, powerful movements such as a tennis serve or a golf swing. 

The strengthening exercises explained below, will allow you to achieve scapular stabilization and by performing them exercises 3-4 times per week, your symptoms should improve if your muscular pain is solely due to walking the dog.  However, it is important to consider that if you have degenerative changes and disc problems in the neck, which may give rise to inflammation and muscular pain, these may also contribute to your symptoms. 

More serious conditions may also be the cause of jaw, neck and shoulder pain. These include heart conditions, Polymyalgia Rheumatica (PMR) and Giant Cell Arteritis (GCA).  However, it is usual for other symptoms to accompany these conditions. In the case of PMR you may also experience fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, headache, weightloss and depression. And, in the case of GCA, scalp tenderness and impaired vision are other common symptoms.  So, it is important to see your GP urgently if you experience other symptoms or if your muscular pain fails to improve after one week, of performing these gentle exercises.

Dumb  Waiter
Pull your elbows tightly into the sides of the waist with your hands facing the ceiling. Keep your elbows at 90 degrees and pressing them tightly against the sides of the waist.
Inhale as you open your forearms and exhale to return to the start position. Repeat the exercise 10 – 15 times. Keep pressing your shoulders down, away from your ears and take care not to arch your back, while opening out the forearms.

Dumb Waiter Exercise

Position 1 – lying face down
Start by lying down with a small pillow or folded towel beneath the abdomen, to support your low back area. Place your head down on a small pillow with your hands either-side of your ears and the elbows pointing towards your feet. Position your feet shoulder-width apart with your heels pointing towards each other.

As you exhale, lift your head and shoulders, keeping your elbows and forearms on the floor.  Lift the head so that you are looking forwards while and firmly pressing down the forearms to the floor. Hold the lifted position on the in-breath, while pressing the shoulders towards the back of your waist, feeling more tension through the middle back muscles. Exhale to lower your head back down to the pillow again. Repeat 10 times

Sphynx Position 1


Position 2 – standing, facing a wall
Stand about one foot away from a wall and place the forearms and forehead against it. Your hands are at the same level as your ears.

As you exhale, press into your forearms firmly against the wall, while moving your body away from it.  Hold the position on the in-breath, while pressing the shoulders towards the back of your waist and feeling more tension through the middle back muscles. Exhale to lower your head and shoulders back to the wall. Repeat 10 times.
Sphynx Position 2

Arm Pulses
Take your hands behind you, with the palms facing away from the body.  Repeatedly, pulse your arms while pressing your shoulders down, away from your ears.  Exhale with each pulse and repeat up to 50 times. 

By pulling in your abdominal muscles, by scooping your navel towards the spine, you will be able to keep the rest of the body still, while you pulsing back your arms. The exercise will also be more effective.

Arm Pulses

Pectoral Stretch
Stand about one foot away from a wall, with the right side of the body towards it. Place the palm of your right hand onto the wall behind the body. Turn the body and your neck to the left to feel the stretch at the front of the right shoulder and chest and along the arm. Hold the stretch for 30 seconds before, repeating it on the left side.

Pectoral Stretch



See all Gina's Home Exercise and Rehab features

Please send your questions for future columns, or feedback, by email to Gina John on

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