As I mentioned last week, I see upper back pain complaints in the office each and every day. It doesn’t stop there though. Often upper back pain turns into neck and shoulder complaints as well. It is common for people to think of these as separate issues. I want to encourage you to see how EVERYTHING is connected. Our bodies are not individual parts only doing their specific jobs. Instead, many muscles work together to create smooth movement. Most muscles have one main job, but support other muscles in different movements as well. You have muscles that oppose each other and do opposite jobs to ensure correct speed, timing, and effectiveness. There are muscles that cross multiple joints. You have muscles that need to support your body while other muscles are working. And I think the most important aspect is the order in which these muscles work. One muscle may start the motion, one may do a bulk of the work, and another may finish or stabilize the joint during motion. If there is any dysfunction in any of the previously listed ways a muscle works, then on comes the tension, pain and injury.
In order for our bodies to remain upright, either sitting or standing up, our muscles need to support us in that position. Think of a tall pole and the support wires it has to keep it balanced and centered. If one of those wires were too tight or too loose, it would fall out of balance and probably tip over. That is how our body works as well, except we don’t tip over (…well, usually). Our body adapts to these situations by creating tension and stability (aka stiffness and immobility). In regards to upper back pain, we actually look to the muscles on the front of the body as the main culprits.
The Pectoralis muscle group are those strong muscles of the chest. The pectoralis muscles, combined with some of the shoulder rotator cuff muscles, often pull the shoulder forward. Our lifestyles reinforce this position of rolling our shoulders forward and in. The pulling forward of the shoulder creates an over-stretch on the muscles of the upper back. This consistent over-stretching creates weakness. Because of the imbalance between the muscles of the chest and upper back, we now have increased tension and pain in the upper back, neck and shoulders.
Open Your Chest
So what is the best way to relieve upper back, neck, and shoulder pain? The answer may surprise you. Open your chest. To relieve the over-stretching of the upper back you need to take the pressure off those muscles. The best way to do this is to stretch out the chest muscles and receive therapeutic massage. Check out this video here or ask me for some suggestions next time you are in. Therapeutic massage is helpful for many reasons. Firstly, It can relieve tension in chest. Secondly, it is used to release trigger points in upper back. Most importantly, we can reset muscle reflexes to encourage proper muscle function.
Stretching and massage are great, but unfortunately they will not completely fix everything. As I always say, I love seeing my clients and helping them with their pain complaints, BUT I cannot undo in 1 hour what has been building up all week or all month. Next week, we will take a better look at what posture is and how we can make small changes. Instead of just “sitting up straight”, let’s take a look at how to relieve tension and pain in the upper back, neck and shoulders.