If the area between your shoulder blades feels like it’s on fire at the end of the day, you are not alone. Stress, poor posture, and badly designed workstations all contribute to upper back and shoulder pain. Here are some simple tricks to release your shoulders and upper back from the grip of pain.
Understand your pain
Your first impulse may be to stretch your upper back because the muscles feel stiff. Stretching can provide short-term relief, and some useful stretches appear below. But your pain isn’t really caused by tight upper back muscles. The tight muscles are in the front of your body, across your chest and neck. The muscles of your upper back ache from being overstretched, not overtightened. Stretching the upper back muscles feels good, but don’t overdo it or you could make your problems worse. For long-term relief, you’ll need to strengthen the upper back and stretch the chest.
Stretching and self-massage for pain relief
You’ve probably already discovered that rolling your shoulders feel good. Wrapping your arms in front of you and hugging yourself, with your elbows held high, gives a mild stretch to the area between your shoulder blades where the knots are. For a more powerful stretch, grip a doorframe with your hands at shoulder height and pull your body away from your hands. You can also reach across with your opposite hand to massage the area. Use your fingertips to explore the inner and upper edges of your shoulder blade, and the space between your spine and the top of the blade. When you find knots, rub them as if your fingertip was an eraser.
Self-test for shoulder alignment
Stand facing the full-length mirror and relax your arms at your sides. Which part of your hands faces the mirror? If it’s the thumb side of the hand, your shoulders are properly aligned. If you see the backs of your hands in the mirror, then your shoulders are rotated forward. This is caused by tight muscles in the front of the upper body and overstretched upper back muscles. Imagine spreading your collarbones while you draw your shoulder blades firmly against your rib cage and watch your arms rotate into proper alignment in the mirror. You’ll need to strengthen your upper back and stretch your chest muscles to bring your shoulders into the proper alignment. You’ll find the following exercises very helpful.
Stretch your chest
To open up your chest and the fronts of your shoulders, stand facing the wall, with your toes and chest touching it. Extend your right arm to your side, at shoulder height, palm on the wall. Keeping your right arm and shoulder against the wall, turn your entire body to the left. Rotate your feet, hip, shoulder, and face to the left so you are looking down the wall away from your right hand. Hold this position for 30 seconds to a minute, while relaxing your right shoulder and letting it sink and soften. Then stretch your left side in the same way. Perform this stretch at least once a day.
Strengthen your upper back
Turn your back to the wall and stand with your hips, shoulders, and head against the wall. Bring your arms into a ‘goal post’ or ‘robbery victim’ position: elbows straight out from the shoulders, bent 90 degrees so your fingertips point to the ceiling. Try to keep your elbows and hands in contact with the wall as you slowly slide your hands up as far as you can and then return to the starting position. This is much harder than it sounds, and you probably won’t be able to bring your arms straight up while keeping contact with the wall, but go as high as you can. 5-10 repetitions should leave you with the sensation of building strength in the upper back. Repeat once or twice daily.
A delicious passive stretch
Lie down on a mat or rug on the floor. Place a pillow, cushion, or folded blanket under your upper back, so the bulk of the padding is between your shoulder blades and supporting the center of your ribcage. The tops of your shoulders and your head should be on the floor. Lengthen the back of your neck so your jaw doesn’t jut up toward the ceiling. If your lower back isn’t comfortable, bend your knees and place your feet flat on the floor. Adjust your arms to they are comfortable but the stretch through your chest is strong and delicious. You can either spread your arms out to your sides, palms up, or bring them overhead and hook your index fingers together to hold them in place. Relax in this position for several minutes, breathing slowly and deeply.
Give your body time to respond
It will take a time to retrain your body into an alignment that doesn’t strain your shoulders and upper back. Stay conscious of your posture, and when you feel your shoulders and head sliding forward, bring them back into alignment by lifting your front ribs and relaxing your shoulders downward. The stretches and exercises given here will help relieve your pain, and you will find yourself craving the opening and release. Some Chiropractors instruct their patients to do the wall exercise and stretching every time they go to the bathroom. That’s a great way to remind yourself to do them several times each day!