The Top 5 reasons you might be experiencing upper back pain
Rounded Shoulders: Rounded shoulders are characterized by the forward positioning of the shoulders and a rounded upper back. It is a common postural imbalance that can be caused by issues such as prolonged sitting or standing. Tightness in the pectoral muscles become normal without adequate stretching and weak back muscles result. Another reason are imbalances in the shoulder joint caused by repetitive tasks – like using the computer mouse, sleeping on your side without proper support from your pillows, or injuries. A stretch that can assist with this posture is a doorway pec stretch. A doorway pec stretch involves standing in an open doorway, leaning your forearm vertically along the edge of the doorway, and then leaning forward. You should feel a good stretch across the front of your chest / pecs while doing this.
Forward Head Posture or “Tech Neck“: Upper back pain can also be linked to forward head posture. This occurs when the head protrudes forward from its ideal alignment with the spine frequently occurring with those that work at a desk or look down to look at their phone. Forward head posture is commonly caused by a lack of strength from a group of muscles in your neck called the deep neck flexors. A great exercise to strengthen and activate these muscles is a chin tuck. Chin tucks are performed by sitting up with a straight / elongated neck and back, and then tucking in your chin, as if you are trying to give yourself a double chin.
Muscle Imbalances: Poor posture often involves muscle imbalances, where certain muscles become tight and overactive while others weaken and become lengthened. Your body will compensate to help heal especially after an injury. Muscle imbalances are very broad, and poor posture can originate from many different muscles. This is the reason why manual therapies are so beneficial after you experience an injury or discomfort for any reason. One exercise that recruits a broad range of muscles and is very useful for good posture is an elbow plank, ensuring this is done with correct form.4
Increased Thoracic Kyphosis or “Hunchback“: Thoracic kyphosis refers to an exaggerated curvature of the upper back, commonly known as a “hunchback”. Excessive curvature in the thoracic spine can lead to upper back pain and limited thoracic mobility. This is caused by slouching or poor posture that stretches the ligaments and muscles that hold the spine in place. A great exercise to assist with improving thoracic extension is a foam roller thoracic extension. This exercise involves the patient gently extending and flexing over a foam roller in a sit up like motion. It is important to ensure that the foam roller is not too firm. You can also use a towel over the foam roller to make it softer.
Poor Ergonomics: Prolonged sitting or working in positions that strain the upper back can contribute to pain. Sitting for extended periods without proper support for the lower back and upper body, or working at a desk that is too high or too low, can strain the muscles and structures in the upper back, leading to discomfort. Proper work ergonomics vary a lot from occupation to occupation. However, one top tip that remains true amongst all professions is that you should alternate sitting and standing as often as possible. For example, if you work at a desk, you should aim to stand up and walk around for 30-60 seconds every 20-30 minutes. It is often useful to set reminders on your computer to get up and walk around.
Stuart Aberdein is a Registered Manual Osteopath practising at Acupoint Wellness Centre in Vancouver. Osteopathy is a manual therapy where the body is treated as a whole unit. Techniques such as massage, joint mobilizations, exercises and stretching are often used in a treatment to help with alignment, assist the body to heal, and ease chronic pain.
To find out if Manual Osteopathy is the right kind of treatment for you book a complimentary initial assessment or an initial assessment + treatment.
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