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Upper Back Pain

Posted Feb 09 2007 12:00am

Upper back pain and stiffness is a common problem in today’s world. How many hours a day do you sit in front of your computer? Four, five, six hours a day? What position are you in for those many hours?

I would like you to take a trip and have an out of body experience. I know, I know, you think I am being flaky and new age like. Hold on for a minute and give me some latitude here. Go ahead, close your eyes wait!!!!!! You have to finish reading this first so that you will know what to do when you close your eyes. OK, when you close your eyes I want you to see yourself sitting at your desk, or wherever it is that you work on your computer. Can you see how your are bent forward and how your shoulders are slightly rounded as you bring your arms in position to type? Well this becomes a problem when it is done for hours on end, day after day. Couple this with daily stress, insecurities and lack of exercise and proper stretching (note, I said proper) and no wonder you’re in pain, feel stiff & tight.

For those of you who are saying, wait a minute I am not on a computer all that much and my shoulders still hurt and feel tight. What about me? Well here are a few other things to think about. Do you carry a heavy purse, backpack, children? Do you drive a lot? Al these things a daily repetitive tasks that create stress on your shoulders and if not attended to will lead to tightness and stiffness.

The major muscle in the upper back is the trapezius, commonly called the traps. The traps are a huge muscle that spans a large part of your upper back. See the picture below where the green shaded area is? That is the trap.
trapezius.jpg
If you look carefully you will see how this muscle spans the shoulders and goes up into the base of your occiput (the back of your skull). True there are many other muscles in the upper back that will also become tight, and they will need to be addressed as well when being treated. However, this muscle needs to be worked on first, because if the traps are tight and as it is the most superficial muscle the lower layers can’t be gotten to with out experiencing a lot of pain. So for those of you who want deep tissue massage all the time or ask for it on your very first massage be careful what you ask for. I always work muscle in layers, superficial first, and deeper ones later. Working faster than that can create more pain and soreness than you might want.

It is also very important for you to take frequent breaks during the day. I always tell my patient to get up and stretch every 20-30 minutes. This does not have to be a 15 minute calisthenics event, you just need to do some shoulder shrugs and rotations. I always recommend the doorway stretch as well. With this stretch you have to be careful of your fingers though. To do it in front of a doorway with your feet about shoulder width apart, put your palms on the door frame and lean into the doorway. As you do this you should feel a stretch in you pecs. Hold this position for a few seconds then come back upright. Doing these exercises will help prevent some of the tightness that you experience. You also need massage work to help keep the muscle soft and supple. Massage will also bring fresh blood to the area by relaxing the muscles. Massage will also relax you in general and this too will allow your muscles to stand down.

You need to be proactive (work to prevent problems) as well as reactive to keep your body functioning in the best way it can. This is the idea behind massage and Chinese medicine. What a novel idea?

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