Upper Back Pain: What's Causing It And How To Treat It

“I’ve noticed an increase in upper-back pain in women patients,” confirms physical therapist Dana Rose. Our tech, lifestyle, even the weight of our boobs can contribute. The good news? Simple tweaks can make major differences. Here’s how to feel better fast, if your back and neck are, well, killing you.

1. Work Backwards

“Almost everything we do in our daily life bends us forwards,” says yoga therapist Carol Krucoff. Think about it: you lean forwards while at your computer, to make a smoothie, to lift weights at the gym. “Unless you paint ceilings for a living, almost nothing you do in your day bends you backwards.” The result? Muscle imbalances. Your pecs and neck flexors shorten, rounding your shoulders, and your upperback muscles (the trapezius and rhomboids) lengthen and weaken, explains chiropractor Ian Nurse.

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Do these backwards-focused exercises three times a week to help even out a skewed body and ease repetitive stress injuries that crop up from being in one position.

BABY COBRA: Lie facedown with your arms at your sides, palms down, forehead or chin on the floor. Inhale and lift your head, shoulders and chest off the ground. Exhale and then relax back down. Easy!

REVERSE FLYS: Stand with a pair of dumbbells, feet hip-width apart and knees bent. Bend forwards at hips as you raise arms out to the side, squeezing shoulder blades together.

PASSIVE BACKBEND: Pop a rolled up towel under your shoulder blades (perpendicular to your body), and lie on it with arms out to the sides.

2. Be Laser-Focused About Better Posture

All of those activities we do facing forwards? Well, we often do ’em with poor form. “One of the most common reasons for upper-back and neck pain is less-than-ideal ergonomics and posture,” says Charla Fischer, an orthopaedic surgeon. And anytime your body’s in an out-of-whack position for too long, your muscles can overstretch, develop micro tears, cramp and spasm. Eek

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Think about two beams of light: one shining straight up from the top of your head, another forwards from the centre of your chest. Check in on your beams during the day – if either light is slanting down, that’s a sign you need to adjust your posture, says Krucoff. Look at your phone at eye level too, and loosen up: gripping something tenses your arm and shoulder muscles, leading to stress and pain.

3. Sit On Your Bum (The Right Way)

Shocker: most people don’t sit with proper alignment, says Krucoff. Considering how many of us sit at a desk each day, that’s a problem. Over time, lounging with your back in a C shape instead of its more natural S shape can cause pain.

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Reach under your bottom and feel for two hard knobs (now, now) at the base of your pelvis. They’re your sit bones (known in the biz as the ischial tuberosity). Gently move the flesh of your booty aside so they release down. Once you know where they are, you can find them anytime, hands-free. When you’re rooted on your sit bones, your head is balanced over your shoulders and your spine is neutral, eliminating stress to muscles and joints, Krucoff explains.

3. Think Of Movement As Therapy

Can’t remember the last time you had a spa day? Waking up sore your norm? “Women are very tolerant of pain – they’re more used to it,” says Fischer. But ignoring those warning signs can lead to chronic issues, such as muscle strain or joint injuries, that are harder to treat later.

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Try moving a little bit more, even if it’s just a short walk every 30 minutes. Your muscles help you function efficiently and take pressure off your joints, but they’ll become tired if they’re stuck in a passive position day in, day out, says Rose. If you amp up your activity and you’re still popping painkillers at breakfast, touch base with a physical therapist who can create a personalised plan for you.

4. Even Out Your Superwoman Muscles

We carry a lot of stuff – babies, purses, laptops, the list goes on – but the catch is that we tend to use one side of our body over and over again. By carrying a heavy weight disproportionately, you overwork your upper traps and rotator cuffs, leading to increased tension, says Nurse.

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A backpack evens out the weight (keep it under 11kg), minimising risk for overuse injuries. The baby you’re carrying? Try not to round your shoulders forwards to hold him or her, says family medicine physician Stephanie Canale. A carrier also centres a baby’s weight, allowing your shoulders to relax. Easy!

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