Have you ever experienced mid-back pain? Do you get a gnawing sense of discomfort between your shoulder blades? Or a knife-like stab under your shoulder blade?
These pains can be caused by tight muscles, poor breathing habits or posture. In my practice I have found that, in addition to massage, these tips can help you to relieve your own mid-back pain and discomfort.
TIP #1 – Change your posture throughout the day Mid-back pain and discomfort can be caused by changes to our posture. This can affect anyone, but is more common in children and adolescent females.
Postural changes occur due to many factors such as:
- sitting at a desk all day
- a poorly fitted backpack putting pressure on our neck and shoulders
- a lack of awareness of the position of our head while reading and writing
- changes caused by hormones
One of the primary “jobs” of our muscles is managing our relationship with gravity. Postural changes affect how the forces of gravity are distributed thorough out the body. In turn, the balance between the muscle whose contraction moves us directly (agonist), and a muscle whose actions counteracts that of another specified muscle (antagonist) is altered and disrupted. Over time these changes cause repetitive stresses which result in injury. Posture has a larger effect on the body than many people realize. Often my clients are surprised to find that simple changes to everyday habits and posture makes a big difference in reducing their pain. The more you are aware of where your body is in space and the more you are able to correct your own posture, the better you will feel. Improving this awareness will not only help with correcting posture, it will also assist in preventing injury. Although it is important to realize that any change in habit takes time, awareness, and perseverance, you can begin to feel better with some simple changes. Here are some simple changes that can help you improve your posture:
- If you sit all day at work or school, get up for a few minutes and move around or just get up and stretch.
- When you have a major project or deadline, set a reminder on your smart phone to remember to move.
- Try to be aware of your body and how you are sitting, standing or even walking.
- When you are sitting, position yourself on your “sit bones”. This simple change off-loads the spine and make it much easier to have better sitting posture.
Take the time to adjust your work station. If you need help check with your HR department as some companies offer ergonomic assessment for their employee’s work stations. If this service is not available the Orthopaedic Therapy Clinic therapists can come to your work site and/or begin a review of your ergonomics from photographs of your set-up.
TIP #2 – Practice Diaphragmatic breathing
Our diaphragm is an extremely important muscle. It helps us to breathe, moves lymphatic fluid and plays a role in maintaining posture. This dome shaped muscle forms the floor of the thoracic cavity, while the lungs sit on top. When we inhale, the diaphragm contracts and is drawn downwards into the abdominal cavity. Other muscles lift the ribs like the handle of a bucket. The thoracic cage becomes deeper and larger, drawing air from the atmosphere. This increase in air pressure provides support for the upper body. During exhalation, the rib cage drops to it’s resting position while the diaphragm relaxes and elevates to its dome shaped position in the thorax. Air within the lungs is forced out of the body as the size of the thoracic cavity decreases. These constant pressure changes assist with the movement of lymphatic fluid which is not only important for regular fluid exchange but also for reducing swelling. The diaphragm also has an intimate relation with our core muscles (transverse abdominus/internal oblique). The finger-like extensions of the diaphragm connect into (inter-digitate) the transverse abdominus muscle. This relationship assists with the stability of the spine. If the diaphragm does not function properly this has a direct impact on the ability of transverse abdominus to work efficiently and to give stability.
TIP # 3 – Strengthen your core
Maintaining the strength in our postural muscles is critical to living without pain. These muscles create the opposition for the gravitational forces constantly pulling on our bodies. A strong core lifts the spine, creating traction and allowing forces to be distributed through the body evenly, as well as reducing the risk of injury. Many of us have a tendency to carry our bodies in a slouched position. This forward position changes the gravitational pull on our bodies. In this position gravity has the advantage. Life can be hectic and often we have to choose where to allocate our precious time. Be kind to yourself and set some time aside to empower yourself and reduce pain and discomfort through strengthening exercises. Discuss with your physiotherapist to see if these strategies will help you manage your relationship with gravity:
- Increase your abdominal stability – practice hollowing your abdomen by pulling your belly away from your pant-line. You can work this into your day by practicing while sitting on the subway or waiting for the bus.
- Strengthen your gluteal muscles – squeeze your butt often during the day. This can be practiced when you are sitting or standing.
- Strengthen your mid-back muscles – target the lower fibers of trapezius by bringing your shoulders down and back. Practice this several times per day until it becomes a natural position for your shoulders.
If you are finding chronic tightness is limiting your ability to move well or if you have muscle soreness, book a massage therapy treatment with me to specifically address these areas and to learn which self release strategies you can use between treatments. My next blog will discuss self-release techniques using a tennis ball, foam roller, and the use of hydrotherapy for mid-back pain and discomfort.