By Monica Coplea LMT, KMI, CPT
In the 17 years I’ve been in massage practice, the most common problem area people come to see me about is for their upper back. Most Americans spend endless hours in front of a computer so it is no wonder this is such a common complaint. I will try to shed some light on what occurs structurally, what you can do to ease discomfort, and how and why massage could help.
The only bony attachment of the arm and shoulder blade to the axial skeleton is through a little joint called the sternoclavicular joint (it is where your collar bone and breast bone meet). This means the shoulder has a great degree of mobility but it also means proper muscle balance is crucial to the health of the shoulder and upper back complex. Due to the repetitive movements or improper posture that many of us perform in our everyday lives, the internal rotators and flexors of the shoulder (such as the pectoralis muscles, subscapularis and upper trapezius to name a few) become overly tight and pull the external rotators and extensors of the shoulders such as the rhomboids and lower and middle trapezius. The body sends pain signals in areas that are under strain to prevent tearing and therefore people feel upper back pain.
In addition, when there is repetitive stress, our body tries to adapt and lays down additional fascia or connective tissue, which is like plastic wrap and makes muscles less elastic and more like straps. This means if you sit or stand in a certain position day in and day out your body will try to help you stay in that position. That is why it is so difficult to force yourself to have good posture.
There are a number of things that you can do to change this cycle. The most important is to get yourself out of your routine and make sure your workstation is ergonomically correct. Be it at a computer or running on trails, you shouldn’t be always looking down and rounding your shoulders. If you sit regularly at work, change from a typical office chair to a physio ball and, if it is available, try to stand occasionally. Although most people feel discomfort or pain between the shoulder blades (as mentioned above), the pectoralis muscles and upper trapezius are often tight and need to be stretched. Reversely, the rhomboids and lower traps often need to be strengthened by doing more pulling exercises (for more explanation on how to perform these stretches and exercises ask a qualified personal trainer).
Massage and bodywork can also be very helpful. This not only helps lengthen short tissue and brings increased circulation but can also release trigger points that form in muscles under constant stress.
For further information or for a massage please feel free to contact me at Hypo2: