How to Relieve Your Shoulder and Upper Back Pain
Good shoulder and upper back posture can do wonders for relieving chronic pain in your neck, shoulders and upper back, the area of your body essentially known as your shoulder girdle, which is technically the skeletal structure involving your clavicle and scapula. While you may work on your posture by using good form during chest, back, and full-body exercises (such as those which many yoga poses offer), you may still need an exercise or two to help give your shoulder girdle the extra attention it requires. And if you do plenty of exercises in this area already but still experience a lot of pain and/or tension here, perform this test to see how you're really doing:
Stand up straight and relax. Grab two pens (or other objects that are straight and solid in nature) in each hand and let your hands drop to your sides. Again, relax, and then look at the pens – they should be facing forward at a 90-degree angle from your body. If the pens angle inwards at all, this is indicative of an imbalance in your shoulder posture.
The following is a key exercise that you can incorporate into your regular exercise routine to help improve your shoulder posture. As with any exercise routine, please consult with your doctor before starting anything new, to develop a comprehensive treatment plan. Additionally, make sure that you work with an appropriate therapist on the proper form for this exercise. Generally speaking, this exercise can be done every other day. It is usually advisable to give your muscles a day's rest in between, so be sure to allow them time to recuperate – it will only serve to help you heal and prevent further injury.
Scapular Wall Slides
Stand with your back to the wall and your feet a few inches away, so that you are relatively comfortable. Now raise your arms and make a goalpost shape with them, with your palms facing each other and your thumbs against the wall (alternatively, the back of your hands can be pressed against the wall). Keeping your buttocks, shoulders, elbows, head and thumbs against the wall the entire time, slowly move your arms up and along the wall. Imagine that you're drawing a large diamond shape, but stop when it feels like you've drawn a comfortable portion of the shape – do not force your hands together.
Now slowly reverse the motion until you're back into a goalpost position with your arms. Repeat this 8 to 20 times, doing 2 to 3 sets.
Other tips for good shoulder health:
- When doing upper body exercises, avoid bringing your shoulder blades together. Instead, imagine bringing your shoulder blades back and down. This may take some time to get used to imagining, but it will greatly help your form and prevent injury.
- Avoid the motion associated with upright rows. This action can harm your rotator cuff muscles, and will compress the muscles in your upper back and shoulders in a decidedly unhealthy way.
- When doing an overhead-press-type exercise, try to make a W-shape with your arms, rather than bringing your arms straight up or bringing your hands together. This too will help you avoid compressing the upper part of your shoulders (i.e. your trapezius muscles).
- If something hurts, stop doing it! It's that simple.
By Richard Lobbenberg, BSc BHSc DAc
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