Imagine that you open a door, then you place your two hands on the top corner (furthest from the hinges) and hang with your full weight. Did you ever do that as a kid? I know I did, and all my four boys certainly have as well! Initially, the door will be able to tolerate that stress but now imagine that you have the strength endurance of a rock climber and hang there whilst the door is swinging back and forth. In time, this stress and leverage on the hinges, will over demand the force that the hinges are designed to tolerate. The result will be a weakening of the upper hinge, a misalignment of the door and eventually with enough repetition and force, the door may come off it's hinge completely.
It's exactly the same principle when it comes to your mid-back, a.k.a. the thoracic spine or spino-scapular region of the body. Understand that each of the twelve thoracic veterbrae have joints with each pair of the ribs, illustrated above. These are the costovertebral joints and when they are not in alignment they can cause a very sharp pain between the spine and shoulder blade area and a reactionary muscle spasm. The more time that we are sitting with a rounded, forward head posture, we are creating the very causes for this scenario to play out, especially if we are not using our postural awareness and making corrections. Similar to the door hinge analogy, the prolonged stress and leverage will cause weakening of the middle back (spino-scapular) muscles, a misalignment of the thoracic cage and eventually our body will scream out with symptoms in an attempt to try to auto-correct and we may have to lay down to find some relief. If this describes any of your symptoms, one recommendation I teach in my clinic is to place the arm, of the symptomatic side, in a shoulder sling to eliminate the weight of the arm temporarily, to reduce the demand on the spino-scapular muscles.
Similar to your bank account where you must budget to ensure the money in and money out are at least balanced, it's the same principle with your physical body. The emphasis of today's article is the middle back but this analogy applies to all areas of your health and wellness program. If we spend several hours a day sitting and we are not aware of our posture, then we are taking more money out of our postural account than we have available and if we don't take time each day to compensate for this loss by investing in corrective exercises and stretches, then our postural debt accumulates, until eventually one day our body says enough is enough. Pain or symptoms are the necessary feedback mechanisms to help communicate with you of an imbalance and it's your job to listen it and make a correction.
Today's mobility exercise is my #1 choice for paying off this postural debt and reducing and eliminating upper back pain and even shoulder pain.
- Standing approximately one foot away from the wall or doorway, place your hands high on the wall.
- Take a deep breath in, bend from hips, keeping most of your weight in your heels, and extend your middle and lower back.
- Look upwards to the ceiling, holding your breath for 5-10 seconds, then gently release both your breath and the position.
- Repeat for 10-20 repetitions, as often as you wish throughout your day.
To watch the video teaching of this exercise, click below.
If you find benefit from this one exercise, be sure to check out my new First Aid for Pain Relief Mid-Back & Shoulder program, which includes 5 additional exercises, stretches and self-massage techniques AND my top 6 nutrition and lifestyle tips to help boost your healing and recovery from stress, tension and pain.
Wishing you a life filled with health, happiness and vitality!
Jason Barlow, RMT.