Here at our North East Therapy Rooms we are finding that upper back and neck pain are becoming more and more prevalent in today’s society
Are Upper Back and Neck Pain Related?
The reasons behind the discomfort of upper back and neck pain may vary, but in most cases they all come down to our posture and lifestyle.
Our love of screens also plays a major role in upper back and neck pain. For instance the average office worker will spend almost 1700 hours a year in front of a computer screen, and most of us spend over 3 hours on our phones every day!
The neck and upper back are closely located, yet separate areas of the body, which seem to experience similar problems at the same time; but are both of them related?
Upper Back Pain
Whether it occurs through injury or repetitive strain, upper back pain is something most of us have experienced. The most common causes include muscular irritation and joint dysfunction.
The upper back, or thoracic spine, is designed for stability to anchor the ribcage and protect vital internal organs.
Due to its sturdiness, it is remarkably resistant to injury. Therefore when pain does occur, it is typically due to long-term poor posture.
Neck pain is extremely common, and aside from injury, lifestyle factors and stress are significant contributing factors. We all know the feeling of having to rotate our entire body to look sideways when unable to move our neck.
As with the upper back, neck pain, or cervical spine pain, is most commonly caused by muscular irritation and joint dysfunction, but may also be accompanied by tension headaches, facial pain and pain or tingling in the arms.
The cervical spine is more mobile and less stable than the thoracic spine, and although more susceptible to injury, most cases of neck pain are again typically caused by poor posture.
Due to the proximity of the neck and upper back, pain can often be experienced simultaneously.
In fact, when poor posture is involved, and even when pain is only felt in one or the other, it is always best practice to focus treatment and rehabilitation on both areas collectively as they are anatomically interdependent.
The thoracic spine is ‘kyphotic’ or curved outwards, whereas the cervical spine is ‘lordotic’ or curved inwards.
These curves are balanced and relative to each other, for example, if the curve in upper back is increased, so is the curve in the neck. There are also many muscles that connect both areas, including the trapezius and levator scapulae.
When one area becomes stiff and tight, these muscles will exert force on the other, with at least some of this tightness being transmitted. There are many other shared structures between the neck and upper back, and the proximity of the nerves that supply both areas may also lead to referred pain.
Pain in the neck and upper back may be prevented with exercises to stretch tight muscles. Similarly, to strengthen weak muscles and mobilise joints.
Here are 5 exercises to target the most common neck and upper back issues:Repeat this exercise three to five times.
Exercise 1 – Towel Roll Stretch
- Fold a dry towel in half lengthways and roll it up.
- Place it on the floor (or your bed if preferred) and lie down on your back on top of the towel. The towel needs to run along the length of your spine.
- Use a pillow to support your neck and bend your knees to protect your lower back.
- Relax and breathe! Stay in this position for 2-3 minutes letting gravity work for you gently stretch your thoracic spine.
- For an extra stretch, bring your arms out to the side to make a ‘T’ shape.
Exercise 2 – Back extensions
- Fold a dry towel in half lengthways and roll it up.
- Place it on the floor (or your bed if preferred) and lie down on your back on top of the towel. This time, the towel needs to run across your back, at the level of your shoulder blades.
- Bend your knees to protect your lower back.
- Place your hands on top of your head, and slowly drop your upper body as low as comfortable, and then return to the original position. Repeat 5-10 times. You can change the placement of the towel to mobilise different levels of your thoracic spine.
- You can also perform this exercise in a seated position by placing your hands on your head and slowly bending backwards over the backrest of your chair.
Exercise 3 – Upper trapezius/ Levator scapulae stretch
- Sit in a chair in an upright position.
- Place one hand under your leg, so that you are effectively sitting on it.
- Carefully lean towards the opposite side until you feel a stretch in your shoulder and neck.
- Let your head drop to the side to increase the stretch in the side of your neck and hold for 20-30 seconds. Then, let your head tilt slightly forwards whilst still to the side to increase the stretch in your shoulder, and hold for 20-30 seconds. Repeat on the other side.
- You can make this stretch more effective by gently pulling your head with your other hand.
Exercise 4 – Dart strengthening exercise
- Lie on your stomach with your legs together. Arms along your sides.
- Lift your abdominal muscles away from the mat. Inhale.
- Exhale. Keep your abdominal muscles pulled in. Extend through your spine and out the top of your head to lift your upper body slightly off the mat. Anchor your pubic bone to the mat to protect your lower back. Your legs and glutes are engaged as part of the stability of the lower body but don’t over-squeeze them. Know that your head is an extension of your spine. Your gaze will be down. Your shoulder blades will slide down your back as your arms reach behind you like they are being blown back.
- Hold for an inhale.
- Exhale to lengthen and lower your body to the floor.
- Repeat this exercise three to five times.
Exercise 5 – Door frame stretch
- Stand in an open doorway.
- Raise each arm up to the side, bent at 90-degree angles with palms forward. Rest your palms and elbows on the door frame.
- Slowly step forward with one foot. Feel the stretch in your shoulders and chest. Stand upright and don’t lean forward.
- Hold for 20-30 seconds. Step back and relax.
- Repeat 3 times.
Keep in mind that these exercises must feel good! If any feel uncomfortable, discontinue them straight away.
It’s also important to always be mindful of your posture in your everyday activities. Hopefully these tips will help you to maintain a healthy spine around a busy schedule: …..
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