Modern life seems to be all about living in our brains and not our bodies. We take in and process the world that’s right in front of us with our eyes, ears and nose but neglect our kinaesthetic sense- the position of our bodies in a given space- basically, what I mean is, we forget about our posture, and how to move efficiently in the world around us.
In my practice I have a lot of people complain about pain in their upper back, neck and shoulders , and what they often present with is poor posture, typically rounded shoulders, upper back and head forward posture. In my last blog I mentioned an imbalance of weak and tight, and lengthened and weak muscles in the lower body, this combination also can exist in the upper body, and they often exist simultaneously. The goal of today’s blog is to give you a variety of simple exercises you can do to correct rounded upper backs that lead to neck and shoulder pain.
Positional Release Exercise
If you already have a burning knot-like pain in your posterior upper corner of your shoulder blade, you might want to start with this positional release exercise first.
- Lay on a fairly firm surface on your side, making sure the painful side is up.
- Support your head with at least two pillows, so your neck spine Is in alignment with your thoracic spine.
- Side bend your head toward the top shoulder once or twice.
- Make sure you relax after each contraction.
- Let your shoulder blade roll back a bit and towards your neck but making sure you are fully relaxed.
- Bring your head back a bit to help put the tight and painful neck muscle In a shortened position while relaxed as much as possible.
- Then turn your head slightly towards the other side, into the pillow.
- Relax into this position for at least 90 seconds.
- Keep palpating the tight muscle until you feel it has released.
Some of the most important muscles in your spine for good posture are the smallest ones! When you’ve been slouching at the computer desk for hours or binge watching on that super soft couch and then ‘remember’ your posture, you might think of snapping your shoulder blades back and together like a soldier at attention, but how long does that last? It feels like it takes more energy than it should, and indeed, you find yourself slipping back into poor posture with a few minutes. The Erector Spinae muscle group are the big extensors of the spine that help you snap your back straight, but the muscles you really need to focus on to develop that effortless ‘runway model’ posture are the really deep little muscles that run right along the spine and are the intrinsic spinal muscles, these are called the transversopinalis and the Multifidi muscle groups. Having these muscles in good shape allows for healthy movement and articulation of the spine and makes way for good circulation, nutrient and oxygen exchange for the discs.
Cat Cow Stretches
A good beginner exercise to wake up the muscles is the Cat and Cow, and then adding a slight modification to really focus on those deep spine muscles.
- Begin with alternating cat and cow stretches on all fours About six times for each, allowing your back to arch up like a hissing cat.
- With your head down towards your chest and you tailbone tucked in; then sway your back, like a cow, while looking up towards the ceiling, and your tailbone up.
- Next, to really engage those little deep muscles of the spine: start in neutral spine, then push through your arms into the floor so your shoulder blades are in protraction ( towards your chest) and your elbows in locked position.
- Keep your neck and upper back straight by tucking your chin in ( your eyes will be looking down) your neck in alignment with the thorax.
- Tilt your pelvis by tucking in your tailbone, the lumbar spine should flatten out as you do this – don’t lose the extension in your upper back.
- Keep your elbows locked, then flex your head down to your chest, so that both your neck and your pelvis and low back are curled in, but your thoracic spine is isolated in extension, don’t forget to breathe!
- Hold for 10-15 seconds then relax into neutral spine.
- Repeat 5-6 times
Tennis Ball Spine Roller
Another simple hack you can use to treat a rounded back is by putting two tennis balls in a sock, tying it off so they stay together. Make a comfortable spot on the floor for you to lay down on. Position the sock so that the balls press into the fleshy part of your upper back on either side of your spine. You can start at the top of your thoracic spine and work your way down to the level of the lowest point of your shoulder blades. At each ‘level’ slowly let your back sink onto the balls and rest there for 30 seconds to a minute.
You can use your deep breathing to help open the spine for a bigger stretch, drawing air in from the belly to the top of your lungs. This should not be painful, if you find the tennis balls are too firm, try using a thicker sock to put them in. Try this once a day, it should take no more than 10 -15 minutes.
There are many great exercises to help alleviate rounded back and aching shoulders, and these are just three of them that I wrote about today. At a later time, we’ll make available a video demonstrating these exercises and more on our Brio website! Please check out the one Dr. Lee and I made on tight hamstrings!
Linda McLaren, RMT