I feel that everyone has experienced upper back pain at some point. It is actually the most common area of complaint that I hear from clients coming in for massages. Upper back pain is very common, especially when the Rhomboid muscles, the muscles between the spine and scapula (shoulder blade), are all knotted up and causing you pain and discomfort.
For most of us, this is due to bad posture. Our lifestyles cater to a slouched and hunched over posture all day long. Whether you are driving, sitting at desk, or texting away on your phone, you will notice that your shoulders are rounded forward, neck may be extended slightly forward, and you may even be tilting your head in a downward direction.
All of these positions lead to pulling your upper back muscles into a lengthened position and your chest (pectoral) muscles to become locked down in a shortened position, causing a lot of your upper back pain. That is where stretching your chest and shoulders, in between your massage appointments, play an important role in your own self-care. Below are some links (green) to various shoulder and chest stretches that you may find useful.
Yoga Poses to Open Your Shoulders (Click link to see full list with photos of the poses. Below are a few of my favorite ones that I like to use for my shoulders).
Stretches for Upper Cross Syndrome
This website goes over some stretches for your pectoral muscles (pecs) as well as some scalene stretches (side of your neck area). When most people say that their upper back is bothering them (Rhomboid area), often times their pectoral muscles will be quite tight as well. To help relieve the muscles in your back, you need to release the muscles in your chest. They are playing tug-o-war with one another, with the pecs winning. If you allow the pec muscles to relax and lengthen, the rhomboids can then shorten back to their natural position, reducing pain and stiffness that you may be feeling.
Simple Stretches While At Your Desk
I hear all the time from clients that they are too busy to stretch. That they are stuck at a desk all day long. This website (even though a little silly in their presentation) shows several stretches that you can do while still seated at your desk. I also recommend keeping water at your desk and drink it. This will do two things for you. One, it will fill your bladder so that you will have to get up to use the restroom. Getting up and walking is great time to stretch your muscles and relieve them from that hunched over, seated position. Two, you need to refill that water bottle up again, which also requires you to get up from your desk. See where I am going with this? Mini breaks that only take a couple of minutes can do wonders for your posture!
So when you are unable to schedule your much needed massages, try some of these stretches in between appointments to see if they will help alleviate some of the upper back pain you may be experiencing. It's worth giving them a try. Let's keep your body moving.
Courtney Truax, LMT is a graduate of East West College of the Healing Arts in Portland, Oregon. She is licensed through the Oregon Board of Massage Therapy and a member of the American Massage Therapy Association. She has her own studio massage practice in the heart of downtown Lake Oswego, Oregon.