Upper Back Pain
Upper back pain can be caused by any number of things. In this article I will be focusing on what I see most commonly with my clients, which are caused by postural/environmental factors resulting in muscle imbalances.
Let me start by explaining what I mean by postural/environmental factors and what a muscle imbalance is.
In general, as a society we spend a lot of our time sitting. Whether this is at a desk, on a sofa, or in a car, train or plane. Then we wake up and the whole thing starts again.
I covered our daily sitting routine in more detail in a previous article about Lower Back Pain. This just emphasises how bad sitting for long periods of time is for us, that it can effect both upper and lower back.
Now some of us feel the urge, and rightly so, to go and do something active after work. Which is great. There’s just one problem with this. Because we are sat down all day certain muscles become inactive and certain muscles become overactive. Unfortunately this means that as far as the brain is concerned the inactive muscles don’t exist. So when we then start exercising or even just moving, our brain uses the overactive muscles instead of the muscles we should be using. This then just compounds the problem and makes the overactive muscles tighter and more overactive and the inactive muscles more overstretched. Or as a former colleague of mine once put it “the strong get stronger and the weak get weaker”.
So what does this have to do with upper back pain?
When we’re sat in static posture for an hour or more, either using a computer, tablet, phone, driving, basically anytime we’re doing anything with our hands out in front of us (which is pretty much everything). Our chest and Upper Trapezius (Traps) get tighter or overactive and pull our shoulders forward and up. This then causes an imbalance and makes our Lower Traps inactive or weak and overstretched. An example of use of an overactive muscle; if you were to pick up a heavy bag, you would use your Upper Traps & Pectorals as the prime movers instead of a muscle(s) that are designed for the job ie the Deltoids.
A tight muscle is quite happy being tight, so you generally won’t get any pain in it. Nine times out of ten our brain considers a tight or “short” muscle to be strong, so it will use it to do everything. You will however get pain in a muscle that’s being overstretched and this is generally why we get pain between our shoulders. Upper Traps are the slight exception to this rule, as they get tighter they can cause pain, referred pain and Tension Headaches.
Using a combination of Sports & Remedial Massage and Corrective exercises we can alleviate the tension in the inactive muscles and lengthen the overactive ones restoring the balance and reducing the ache and pain.