Upper Back & Neck Posture Pain - Much More Common Today!

Many of us will experience upper back and neck pain throughout our lives.  Subtle constant poor postures can lead to myofascial imbalances, headaches and a dull constant pain in our neck and upper back.   This is quite common today because of our technology!  Let's talk about some of the strategies we can do to help reduce our pain and better improve our posture.  By putting into practice these strategies now, we can help avoid chronic rounded upper backs, rotator cuff issues and headaches down the road.

Poor Upper Back Posture and Pain - Much More Common Today!

Let's talk about some of the strategies we can do to help reduce our pain and improve our posture.  By putting these strategies into practice now, we can help avoid chronic rounded upper backs, rotator cuff issues and headaches down the road.

Subtle constant poor postures can lead to myofascial imbalances, headaches and a dull constant pain in our neck and upper back.  This is quite common today because we constantly work in a forward posture (working at a computer, looking at our phones).  Our head tends to drift forward and our arms are always out front.  This can lead to poor upper back posture over time (rounded back, forward head posture and rounded shoulders).  These constant poor postures combine to cause pain, headaches and permanent changes to our spinal posture.

Poor Upper Back Posture and Pain - Much More Common Today!

Rounded Shoulders

Rounded Shoulders

A typical posture that stresses our upper back is rounded shoulders and rounding of our upper back (thoracic kyphosis).  This leads to the lengthening of the muscles between our shoulder blades.  This extended lengthening leads to a lack of control of the shoulder complex in the future.

Additionally, the forward shoulders cause compression to the blood vessels and nerves in the front of the shoulder.  It can cause rotator cuff (shoulder muscle) tendonitis and inflammation.  It can cause pain between our shoulder blades up to our neck.  In extreme cases, this can lead to some numbness and tingling in the hands due to compression of the nerves travelling down from our neck into our arms.  It is essential to be mindful of your posture and allow the shoulders to relax and fall back.  Often physiotherapists will use tape or a shoulder posture supporters to help patients maintain a better posture when performing activities. 

Forward Neck Posture

With rounded shoulders, it is also common to have a forward head posture.  This has been exacerbated due to the rise of cell phones and laptops. These devices are not designed for optimal ergonomic setups.  Forward head postures require hyperextension of the high cervical extensors, with a forward translation of the cervical vertebrae. This leads to the shortening of the muscles in the back of the neck and lengthening muscles in the front.  This posture has been associated with headaches starting from the back of the head travelling around to the eyes.  Believe it or not, over the longer term this posture has also been related to jaw pain and breathing difficulty. 

Ideally you want to have your ears over your shoulder.  Take a look and see where your ears are when you are working on your computer or looking at your phone!  The more your 20 lb head is forward, the more work your neck muscles have to do, to keep your head from falling forward.  Your body was designed to work more efficiently with your spine all lined up and your head sitting over your spine.

Forward Neck Posture

Home Office Setup

These postures have been more prevalent as of late due to work set-ups in our homes.  Office ergonomics is a large field of study.  Many offices have several employees dedicated to putting ergonomic set-ups into practice.  However, at home very few of us keep these set-ups in mind for the home office.  Here are some pointers for your home office set-up.  Be sure to place your monitor an arms length from your eyes (approximately ~18-24 inches), with the top of the screen at approximately the same height.   Ensure your shoulders and chair are facing directly towards the monitor.   Relax your arms at your sides with elbows bent to 90 degrees and supported by the arms of the chair.  The  chair seat should be about level with your kneecap when standing.  When seated, your feet should be flat on the floor.  The chair should be deep enough that you can fit your hand behind your knees while sitting as far back in the chair as possible. 

Home Office Setup

Treatment

Treatment

Exercises that can help prevent changes in these postures include; band pulls that strengthen the muscles between the shoulder blades, pushing your neck back (retractions) and various stretches for the neck, shoulders and upper back.   Download these stretches and you can do them daily at your computer.  These exercises can help improve your posture and strengthen weakened muscles.  A shoulder posture supporter can be used while working to help remind yourself to maintain better posture.  A foam roller can be used to help work on extending your upper back.  To help reduce the pain, you can use a TENS unit and put heat over the upper back and neck. Lumbar Rolls can help align your spine and body.  This helps  put your lower back in a better position as well as aligning your upper back and neck at the same time.  Talk to your health care professional to see if these exercises and modalities are right for you!

As a final note, it is important to remember that there is no perfect posture and the best option is to change postures frequently! 

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