So here we are in February 2021. Whilst things are moving on a pace with the vaccinations, the beginning of the year with Lockdown 3.0, has looked strangely similar to 2020.
With many of you working from make-shift work spaces we are still seeing larger than normal amounts of upper back pain and stiffness. Often working for prolonged periods in front of your computer or craning your neck over your phone, you may be helping to lay the foundation for your own future discomfort.
Prolonged periods of sitting has been linked to poor posture, tension in the soft tissues around the upper back and often leading to some joint stiffness in that area all of which can cause pain. Thankfully, it doesn’t take a lot to help prevent potential problems from occurring. Periodic stretching of the arms and upper back muscles, including the rhomboid and trapezius (or “traps”), or even latissimus dorsi (lats) should be part of your daily work regimen.
The key is to find a few easy exercises that you’re comfortable doing, and then stick with them. However, who’d have thought that one of the benefits in lockdown is that you are not just restricted to exercise whilst seated at your desk, but for those of you who are working from home, you get the opportunity to change have a change of position as all our joints need a little movement from time to time during the day.
So as promised in last month’s blog, her are three simple upper back exercises, in particular backs of the shoulder blades and the area in between the upper spine. These exercises stretch some of those muscles and more talked of above and get some movement you’re your upper thoracic spine.
Let us start with the two seated exercises. Firstly. though I’d like you to find your sitting bones – this is essential for making sure your trunk is positioned well over your pelvis and in turn helps to switch on many of those stabilisers in your back that will support you for sustained sitting.
Find a chair where your feet can be placed flat on the floor. Place your hands under your bottom and with your finger pads / tips find those two bony things that we call your sitting bones. Rock around on them, moving forwards and backwards finding the point at which your fingertips feel maximally squashed.
Then draw yourself up slightly imagining that the top of our head is lengthening upwards but staying soft in your lower back. This is your optimal position, and you should be sitting upright but in a relaxed upright position. Many of you may have seen the ‘find your sitting bones’ video but for those of you who didn’t here it is again. There is more information in the video so it’s always worth a second view. <<WATCH THE VIDEO>>
So first find those sitting bones as above. Drawing yourself upwards through your trunk, place one hand on your thigh at the knee and the other hand on your upper thigh just below your groin. Slide your hands in opposite directions along your thighs.
However, this movement is not just about moving your hands and shoulders, but it is also a rotational movement of your upper back, so it feels that twist. You may well feel stiffer in one direction than the other.
This can be done as often as you like, but it’s important to take the movement slowly and feel the movement through your upper back.
I love this exercise and originally came across it in Yoga. It’s a strong stretch for the muscles in the back of the shoulders. I’ve adapted the exercise so that it is seated. And yes you’ve guessed it first find your sitting bones and softly lengthen through your spine. Next, bend your elbows to 90 degrees in front of you and then bring your arms together and cross your right elbow over the left.
You may want to stop at this point. However, if you have enough mobility then bring your forearms together and bring your palms together. Whichever position you choose, make sure your forearms are vertical and you are not tempted to bring your hands towards your head. You may well want to stop at this point as it is a strong exercise.
For those of you who would like to progress it further elevate your ELBOWS and raise those forearms a little - that will give you a powerful stretch across the back of the shoulder and upper back even though that movement is a very small one. Hold for anything between 10-30 seconds. Then lower your elbows and forearms position, unwrap and open your elbows to the starting position. Repeat with the opposite left elbow crossed over the right.
Remember this is a powerful exercise so work at your own level. In this exercise, less is more, so stay within your own comfort and ability level. Not everyone will have the ability to take on that second wrap of the forearms.
This final exercise is for those who can get on all 4’s (hands and knees). It is a lovely rotation exercise for the upper back whilst also stretching those muscles in the upper back. Use a mat, towel or rug under your knees if you can. Make sure that your hands are placed directly under your shoulders and shoulder-width apart.
Knees are also placed hip-width apart. Keep your neck soft. This exercise is to be done slowly and mindfully for maximal benefit. Take your left hand off the floor and extend the arm upwards, following with your head only if that position is comfortable.
Then thread your left arm through underneath you in a horizontal direction. Follow with your head and neck. If you are able you can then rest the back of your shoulder on the floor, but it is not compulsory. Hold for 10-20 seconds. Then bring your left arm to an outstretched position in the air, taking it slightly more towards your head than the first movement arc. Again following with your head only if that position is comfortable. Then thread the left arm through and take that arm more towards the right hip in direction and following with your head and neck. Hold for 10-20 seconds. Then bring the left arm back into an outstretched position in the air but this time the arm is stretched upwards in a vertical direction again, before threading the left arm through and taking it closer in the direction of the right shoulder, again following with your head and neck. Hold for 10-20 seconds. Then return to the starting position. Repeat on the other side.
So give these a try and see how you get on.
These are generalised exercises and may not suit everybody. None of these stretches should cause you any pain. If they do then stop them immediately and contact your practitioner for specific advice.