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Upper Back Pain

Dr. Laureen MacintoshOne of the most common complaints of people seeking acupuncture and massage services is back pain. Upper back pain is particularly prevalent among office workers. Many people think that their pain is due to back issues, however it can often be due to tight chest muscles. Big strong “pecs” are a body builders dream, but overly tight pectoral muscles are a nightmare for your upper back.

Not a body builder? Tight pectorals commonly arise from working with your arms in front of you with elbows out and hands in. The ideal position for typing! Pair this position with a slouching, head forward posture and the pectoral muscles are now in a shortened position. Add some stress, and lack of stretching and you have a recipe for a sore upper back.

What are the Pectoral muscles?

Pectoralis Major & Minor

Location: Chest wall. Pectoralis Major fibres start on the collarbone, sternum and ribs and run up and across to attach on the upper arm. Pectoralis Minor fibres start ribs 3-5 and attach below the collar bone on a spur of bone from the shoulder blade.

pec-illoAction: Pectoralis Major pulls the upper arm toward the chest and rotates it internally. Pectoralis Minor draws the shoulder blade down and forward (a slouching action).

How do tight Pectoral muscles become upper back pain?

Working for long periods in front of the body with the back of the hands up can shorten the pectoral muscles, which will round the shoulders in.

The shoulder joint is primarily held in place by muscular balance.  The pectoral muscles in the chest pull the shoulders forward, the middle trapezius and rhomboid muscles (located between the spine and the inner edge of the shoulder blade) pull the shoulders back.

When the pectoral muscles are much stronger than the back muscles, or are short & tight from overuse, the shoulders start to round toward the front of the body.  This puts strain on the middle trapezius and rhomboid muscles. These back muscles have to fight constantly against the pull of the pectoral muscles.  They become overused and develop “knots”. Blood flow is reduced through overly tight, knotted muscles which leads to pain.

What can I do?

  1. Acupuncture

Acupuncture acts to boost the body’s healing response. Your acupuncturist will choose points that will reduce the pain, improve local blood flow, release the knots in the muscle and relax you.

  1. Massage Therapy

Nervous about acupuncture? Massage can also improve local blood flow and help to release trigger points in the muscles.

  1. Heat & Stretching

In between treatments you can help your healing by doing some homework. Apply some local heat for 10-15 minutes using a heating pad, hot water bottle or “Magic Bag” to increase local blood flow and help soften the muscle fibres. Follow the heat with gentle stretching. Your acupuncturist or massage therapist can show you how to stretch the right muscles.

  1. Posture Awareness

The only way to really heal the muscles will be to stop doing what aggravates them. Be aware of your posture and make sure you are not shortening the chest muscles through slouching postures. Take regular breaks from the computer to roll your shoulders, do some light stretching and get the blood flowing again. Strengthen the muscles in your middle back to balance the pectoral muscles. Because they are in constant use the pectoral muscles on most people are stronger than the middle back muscles.

Learn more about Dr. Laureen Macintosh

If you have questions about managing upper back pain, “WE” can help. Visit BodyMind Synergy, Your Place to get Better. 403.520.5258