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Posture Check for Lower Back Health

Posted Aug 24 2008 1:49pm
MARY FISCHER, MS, PT: Today, we're talking about shoulder tension, especially right up here in our upper trapezius muscle, which is a very common area for tension that people always ask me about. "Why am I always tense up here?" There are a couple of reasons.

Our muscles up here are too tight, but also the lower trapezius is the antagonist or the muscle that balances out the upper trapezius's function. So by the end of the day, our upper traps are up around our ears, because we're stressed out, we're overusing them. And our lower traps are all stretched and weak.

Today, we're going to learn about how to strengthen the lower trapezius, so that we have a better balance in that muscle and have less tension up here.

So, here we are with Dave. He's going to help us learn a little bit more about the anatomy of the trapezius muscle, which is a large postural muscle and it starts up here at the base of the skull, comes down along the sides of the neck, goes out to the shoulders, attaching on the wing bones and then comes in again to about the mid-thoracic spine. So the action of the upper portion of the trapezius muscle -- which is the area where we have all that tension and pain -- is to elevate the shoulders, like this, and also it extends the neck. And you can see how Dave is in this tense posture -- he also has a great trapezius muscle. This is a very common position of tension among all of us.

And we're going to do an exercise. What you're going to do is grasp the Thera-Band in your hands and then open your arms and as you're doing this, his chest is opening nicely, which is a nice stretch for the pecs. But what he's really accomplishing is strengthening of the lower traps, so let's show them what that looks like back here. So he squeezes, opening his arms and squeezing his wing bones back and down and you can see the lower traps are kicking in here. And this is going to help us achieve a balance of the trapezius muscle; by having a stronger, lower trap, we're likely to have a less tense upper trapezius muscle.

Another strengthening exercise for the lower trapezius -- and you can do it right in your chair -- is the chair push-up. What we're trying to accomplish is strengthening the lower trapezius to balance out the often very tight upper trapezius.

So, what you're going to do is scoot to the edge of the chair again. And you're going to just lift yourself up -- you can keep your feet on the floor. But you can see -- when Dave comes up -- and I can feel back here -- his wing bones are back and down and his shoulders are nice and depressed. And just hold for a few seconds and then come back down slowly. Don't hold your breath, keep breathing.

You're going to push yourself up. Good. Shoulders are down here and his wing bones are coming down, lower traps on. Great. And slowly down and breathe. So that's chair push-ups to work on that balance between the tight upper trap and the weak lower trap, do some lower-trap strengthening right at your workstation.

That was great, Dave. You looked good at that.

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