On top of a full day at the salon, we ride in the car, sit at the computer, watch TV, and interact with our phones. It’s a full day of poor posture, where our shoulders are pulled forward instead of held straight. Avoid the pain that is likely to develop by strengthening and stretching the upper back muscles.
Symptoms of upper back pain include a dull ache between the shoulder blades, tight muscles through the chest and upper back, difficulty breathing, poor posture, and exhaustion from improper breathing. It may also include tingling in your arms or legs, an upset stomach, indigestion, or constipation.
According to J. Talbot Sellers, D.O., author at spine-health.com and physiatrist with the NeuroScience Center of Wisconsin, “The most common causes of upper back pain are muscular irritation and joint dysfunction.” Treatment will depend on the cause of the pain, though nearly everybody can benefit from stretching and strengthening muscles of the chest and upper back. Keeping upper back muscles strong and mobile is particularly important for nail techs since our muscles are either stretched or constricted for most of the day.
When the cause of upper back pain is muscular irritation, treat the muscles themselves — stretch to increase mobilization, exercise to increase strength, and take anti-inflammatory medication to relieve pain. Often, muscle irritation isn’t only in the upper back muscles. When the muscles of the upper back are strained from rounding, chest muscles constrict and become tight and painful. In addition, when chest muscles constrict, breathing becomes shallow. It’s important to incorporate two different movements — one that strengthens the rhomboid muscles and another to expand the muscles of the chest. Yoga can be an immense help to upper back pain. Yoga not only stretches and strengthens muscles, it utilizes proper breathing techniques that engage the diaphragm and expand chest muscles. Orthopedic massage, where a therapist works hard-to-reach soft tissue, can also provide relief from upper back pain.
While standing with back straight, core tight, and shoulders back, clasp your hands in front of you at shoulder height. Tighten your stomach to engage your core and pull your upper spine backwards. Don’t round your body! Imagine your clasped hands trying to touch a wall just out of reach. You are engaging the rhomboid muscles between your shoulder blades, not stretching your spine. Check your posture: Your body should be straight and your shoulders level, not raised. Hold for 30 seconds if possible. Drop your arms. Shake out your shoulders and repeat several times, for a total hold time of two minutes.
When the cause of the pain is joint dysfunction, relief may come from chiropractic adjustments. When a joint has restricted movement, it obstructs the nerves. The nervous system controls the body, so if the communication is restricted, muscles and organs aren’t getting the messages they need to work properly. This can cause pain in the upper back, and also secondary problems not commonly attributed to upper back pain: bowel problems, heart issues, and tingling in the arms and legs. When interference is removed, the body begins to function as it’s intended, and pain dissipates. Relief for upper back pain should come from a combination of stretching and strengthening and removing nerve interference. However, if pain persists, consult a medical doctor. The pain may be a warning sign to a problem larger than upper back discomfort.
This article is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor.
Photography by Kimberly Pham
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