The hunch of pain. Every day I see it. Someone comes in to see me with an achy upper back. “I need work on my back!” they claim, or “my back is so tight!” …yet little do they know, the exact opposite is actually going on.
The number one misconception of back pain, or muscle pain for that matter – is that people confuse stretched pain for tight pain. More often than not, the painful muscle is simply a compensating muscle from another cause.
Let me explain; when a muscle is being over-stretched it will cause a great deal of pain and people assume that this pain is due to the muscle being “tight” itself, when essentially this muscle is being stretched by another opposing muscle or muscle group. And what people don’t realize is, is that by loosening the stretched muscle (the painful muscle) you can actually contribute to the problem – only to allow more room for the opposite tight muscle (which is the actual cause of pain) to shorten and pull the body further out of balance.
99% of our population has poor posture from one time to another, poor posture typically includes shoulders rolled forward, slouched upper back, forward head carriage, rounded lower back, and overly flexed hips, just to name a few.
Take the classic computer hunch for example; where we unconsciously settle into a lazy posture, we over exaggerate ourselves towards our computer while excessively rounding our back. Our shoulders are rounded forward caving in our chest. This posture shortens all of our chest muscles. When we sit hunched forward we are literally compressing all of the muscles in the front of our upper body. These are the muscles that are in deed tight. These are the muscles that are the original source of our back pain. These are the muscles that need to be massaged!
So now as you imagine the front of your upper body contracting, what does this do to your back? It stretches it to a point of pain. The tighter your chest, the more pain in your back. And because we confuse this secondary back pain to be the primary cause of our back pain we heat it, massage it, and stretch it - when really these muscles are already loose, weak and stretched out.
The achy back muscles require a contrasting therapy; the stretched muscles need to be strengthened. A weak back allows far more give for the chest muscles to tighten than a strong back. The weaker your back, the more room for postural imbalance. So here you think your back pain is due to tight back muscles, on the contrary most back pain is due to weak back muscles.
To treat the cause of upper back pain you must treat the root of the problem. There are two points to this equation:
stretch, lengthen, and loosen the muscles of your chest and front of shoulders
strengthen, tone and tighten the muscle of your back and back of shoulders
This is a balancing act that orchestrates the muscles into ideal functionality. When your body is balanced you naturally eradicate muscular pain.
Here are some stretching tips for the front of your body:
Pectoralis Stretch: stretch your pecs by hanging in the doorway: arms bent, elbows up to shoulder height and lean forward with even pressure
Cobra (yoga pose): Stretch your abdominals by lying on your stomach and slowly push into your hands as you straighten your arms and raise your upper torso off of the ground
Hip Extension: Stand in the lunge position and pay special attention to the leg extended out behind you, try to manoeuvre yourself so that you feel the stretch in the front of the hip of the leg extended backwards
Hydrotherapy: Heat your chest and the front of your shoulders. Heat lengthens muscles.
Here are some strengthening tips for your back:
Floor Raise or Superman: lye down on your stomach and squeeze your back muscles and your glutes to raise your arms and your legs off of the ground, hold for 30 seconds
Glue Squeeze: lye down on your back, knees bent and feet on the floor. Raise your pelvis by squeezing your glutes and pulling your pelvis up towards the ceiling, hold for 30 seconds
Dead Lifts: standing and holding light weights, bend down to your toes and then squeeze your glutes and your back to pull yourself up to a standing position, and repeat 10-15 times
Hydrotherapy: ice your back and the back of your shoulders. Ice will reduce the inflammation of a stressed muscle.
And finally: Remember to watch your posture!
Whenever you get a hunch of pain, check yourself and use this helpful holistic approach to rebalance your body and achieve optimal wellbeing. Knowledge is truly power!
Always make sure that you speak to your physician before trying any new exercise regimen. It is recommended to perform the above exercises with professional supervision.