• Dr. Julie Mclaughlin & Dr. Jacob McNamara

How to Fix Upper Back Pain


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Hey Dr. McNamara here at McLaughlin Care. I'm here to talk about upper back pain, neck pain, and what we call upper cross syndrome, and then how we can fix it and things you can do at home. So you can get started today. So what we're looking at with upper cross syndrome is a lot of these experienced individuals that experience that upper back type of pain is this type of posture.


I'm sure somebody's familiar with it. You can put a cell phone in my hands if you're not sure what I'm talking about, or just sit on a desk of your computer. It's a common posture that we all have. We start developing this posture as students sitting in class all day, and then we perpetuate it throughout life, especially if we have office jobs and things like that.


Cell phones, video games, et cetera. So what happens in this posture is these muscles in the front aspect of our thoracic cavity become a little bit weaker. They come by shorter and as well as the stuff, the muscles in the front of the neck, while these muscles become very, very tight and weak as well, because generally a tight muscle is also a weak muscle.


So how we want to fix this is first, we want to work on our posture. So a great exercise to just do the overall posture. It's going to do both stretch out this front aspect of our chest as well as strengthen our back is the wall angel.


So for the wall Angel you want your feet up against the wall, you want to turn your pelvis so your low back touches, elbows and wrists against the wall. And you're just going to rep it up and down, squeezing those shoulder blades together, getting a nice chest stretch in the front. Okay? So for these, you want to do about 10 to 15 reps for three to five sets a day, but that position is really hard to get in because your chest is so tight.


Something you can do is actually I'll use the doorway because most of us don't have TRX bands and you can come up in a doorway and we can do the pec minor stretch. I'm going to stretch out the pec minor. You want to, instead of having the elbows kind of in line with the rest of your shoulder, you want it a little bit higher based on that muscle attachment.


And then you can just sit into the stretch like this, for this stretch we want to hold it about 30 seconds, three to five times a day as well. The other stretches we want to work on for these tight muscles is a lot of times these muscles, these suboccipitals can get really tight back here.


The simple way to stretch that is you can do it seated or standing, but you're just going to pull straight down in your head. And then as you rotate, you'll notice you'll get different spots that are tight and then you can just hold on those tight spots for about 30 seconds at a time. So I can feel it really good on this left side as I pull down. So I would hold that for about 30 seconds and then move on to the next stretches such as the next one would be scalings.


So for this one, I have two ways to do it. One, you can take your hands behind your back, but that elbow behind you. And then since this right shoulder dropped down, I'm going to stretch the side of my right neck by moving it to the left. And then I'm just going to nod forward and feel that stretch.


And again, another 30 seconds there. I want to do the other side. I would just switch it and I would do it both sides. And then the other stuff I have for that since these are lateral muscles that cause a lateral flexion of our neck, I would turn my head to the side and then just push on that temple back, feel that stretch right through there.


In fact, the other exercises I have for you is to start, we're going to work on just retraction of the shoulder. So I'm going to keep my arms completely straight and the only movements gonna control is going to occur in my shoulder blades. So I'm just gonna bring it straight back. That's what it looks like from the back, shoulder blade is just coming together. I'm not actually moving my arms at all.


So when we started getting better at that and we want to build up a little bit of strength, you can grab a band or some sort of resistance, and you're going to hold it there and do the same thing straight back, just like that. You can put your arm on the muscle inside of your shoulder blade to feel it working. So I know it's really contracting good there.


We must also do the opposite motion. So that's going to bring our shoulder blades together, but this inferior angle of our shoulder blade, often can come out and cause what's called scapular winging. So we need to also work out our serratus anterior, which is going to keep that pulled in. That's going to improve our posture.


So for this muscle, the action it goes is forward. So it's the exact opposite. We have it all at the shoulder joint. When you get a little bit stronger than that and we want to build up some more strength, come to the band. So this one's a little bit harder cause it's a smaller muscle and I'm just going to retract forward, retract forward or protract rather.


Okay. So that's great. Last thing I want to talk about is first of all, if we're in a little bit of pain before getting into these exercises, that these exercises are really uncomfortable, something we can do is we can work on the soft tissue structures out of those muscles that are involved. This is when a foam roller comes in handy or double lacrosse ball, whatever you prefer.


So for foam rolling, the general rule of thumb is look, try to find those sore spots on your body and then hold it and kind of massage it for about 30 seconds at a time for each of those spots. Okay. So you're going to find it massage it for about 30 seconds until the pain decreases about 50% or so, and then move on for this upper back area that we're really focused on today. It's kinda hard to get on the foam roller. So it's really nice to have a double lacrosse ball or you can have two tennis balls that are just taped together. You can put it against the wall and then push against the wall to kind of massage those areas. Same rule thumb about 30 seconds at a time on those sore spots.


Last thing I want to show you is a tool that we have in our clinic. And this is a trigger point, Penn and stretch Type of tool. So it's got these little hard balls on it and those balls are going to press down on the muscle and we're going to shorten it and then stretch that muscle out to really loosen it up. And this one is a little different.


So you just kind of want to do it until those symptoms of pain subside a little bit. So that's what you do in case you can't get into these movements. At first, you want to loosen up that tissue and work on that muscle stretch, reflex relieve some of those symptoms of pain by working on some of those different receptors that are going to distract the brain from the pain so that we can get into those body positions.


But the last thing I want to show you is when we're sitting at work and we're feeling those symptoms and there's nothing we could do, you could go to a wall with wall angels if you have that option. But if you don't want to look too weird at work, what you could do is do some, just extensions in the chair, just like that.


You could even flex your head forward a little bit. You might get a little bit of pop snap, crackle, pop that's totally okay. You're just mobilizing a joint, but you do these exercises, especially if you have the upper neck pain, upper back pain type of lower neck, upper back pain type of symptoms.


If these aren't helping make sure to book an appointment with us, we can take a closer look. You might need a chiropractic adjustment or other therapies that we could provide. So give these exercises a try, share this with anybody that you know, that may suffer from these types of symptoms and give us a call if you need us, Dr. McNamara out.