Upper-back pain: causes and remedies


Are you a desk-worker?

Sitting with your head tilted toward a computer screen?

Or do you spend a significant amount of time staring down at your mobile?

If so, you may be at risk of a growing problem amongst the working population.

Spinal kyphosis.

Spinal kyphosis is the excessive outward curvature of the thoracic spine (upper back). Essentially a hunched back. This can lead to decreased mobility and flexibility of the upper back, but more alarmingly to potential spinal complications and back pain.

What causes it?

If the head is in an excessively ‘forward’ position – a typical pose when working in front of a computer screen or scanning an Ipad tablet or mobile phone – you are putting increased stress on your spine, forcing more curvature in your thoracic spine. It’s no surprise when you consider the average head weighs around 4-5kgs, so every inch you move your neck forward or down you place an extra 4-5kgs of pressure on your spine. No wonder this forces it to curve excessively.

Not just a problem for adults

No longer just associated with people after a lifetime sitting at a desk, it’s increasingly observable among kids. With increased use of phones, tablets and computer screens, combined with a lack of instruction about correct posture, children are now exposed to this phenomenon, which should be a major concern.

What fixes it?

It takes time and a conscious effort, but this is what to do:

Become mindful of your posture while sitting at a desk or when using your phone/Ipad.

Learn how to ‘switch on’ your upper back muscles by bringing your shoulders back and keeping yourself upright. Squeezing your shoulder blades slightly together is vital and switching on your rhomboids (the muscles between the shoulder blades) to maintain an upright back.

It’s likely in the first instance that your chest will be tight and you will be unable to switch on your back muscles. The answer is resistance training, prioritising any horizontal pulling exercises in your program. This doesn’t mean focusing on moving a lot of weight, but using the weight or resistance as a means to create tension in your upper back, to be able to switch the correct muscles on. You must also limit the amount of horizontal pushing exercises in any routine and focus on relaxing and stretching the muscles on the front of your body, namely the pectorals (chest) and anterior deltoids.

If you are starting to develop some minor levels of kyphosis in your upper spine, address it immediately. If you don’t it could lead to some unpleasant and unnecessary back pain in the future.

Remain mindful of your posture and this potential problem is easily avoidable.

Note: if you are suffering from back pain it is recommended you seek professional attention. Do not ignore pain.

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Alex is a registered Master Trainer and Nutritional Advisor with Level 4 qualifications in obesity and diabetes. He is also a strength specialist and a Ni Dan in Shotokan Karate.

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