Tip Tuesday: Upper Back Pain

I see people in the massage room each day for that nagging upper back pain. That pinching feeling by the shoulder blade or that constant ache across the upper back is enough to drive anyone crazy. Covid-19 and working from home have only increased the number of people with upper back pain complaints. This upper back pain can go a step further and turn into neck stiffness, headaches, shoulder pain, and more. So let’s dive into why that may be.

Added Stress

The last year of living during a pandemic has created much stress and strain. The rug got pulled out from each and every one of us. We were going on about our usual lives and all of a sudden, all of it stopped. That has been traumatic for all of us. When our body and mind do not feel safe, stress hormones spike and our body takes on a very guarded position. You may think that worry and anxiety are only in our mind, but research shows that our body cannot tell the difference between an actual threat (like a lion about to pounce on you) and perceived threat (worrying about work, health, finances, kids, etc). So our physical body responds in the only way it knows how to protect us. That means increasing our heart rate, tightening up our muscles, and getting ready to fight or flee.

Carrying Stress

So that feeling of carrying all your stress in your shoulders is completely accurate. We elevate our shoulders in response to the stress. Then we elevate our shoulders in anticipation of future stressors. Combine elevated shoulders with another major postural concern, shoulders rounded forward, and we have quite the recipe for upper back, neck, and shoulder pain. Rounded shoulders occur for a variety of reasons: using poor posture for extended periods of time, suffering from depression or poor self-esteem, decrease muscle strength in the upper back, and more. We will focus on the postural and muscle strength aspects over the next month, as that is where my knowledge and experience come together.

Now What?

We just covered some of the ‘why’ to upper back pain. Things like added stress, poor postural patterns, or being stuck in one position for too long. The biggest take away is that your body is constantly adapting to the forces applied to it. That means if we sit with poor posture for too long, that becomes our new normal. This also means that those aches and pains are your bodies way to adapt. The best way to combat this is through awareness. Sure, you have poor posture, but what muscles are contributing? What muscles have weakened? What muscles are too tight and working too hard? What simple shifts can you make in your day to alleviate the extra forces on your body? Next week we will dive into the nitty-gritty and talk specifically about a few muscles that are the main culprits and how we can stretch to minimize extra tension that may lead to pain and injury.

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