So while there is not usually one reason only for pain that comes on slowly, our repeated postures and actions play a large role in getting us there. As I have said so many times you are probably sick of it, problems including upper back pain, are usually cumulative and build over time (unless you have an acute injury). Poor ergonomics and upper back pain are related to each other ; In fact ergonomics can be linked to all sorts of different body pain but here we will focus on upper back.
The way we sit at our computer desk for hours per day definitely plays a role in joint health. There are ways to make the impact less in almost all situations and help prevent things like upper back pain (and of course other pain).
Ergonomics and upper back pain tips and tricks
So, there are some easy quick tips for desk ergonomics that help the upper back. In this newsletter and blog post we will focus on the ones for upper back pain. Later will address lower back pain in another post when we talk more about the lower back. So some quick points to check on your desk:
Monitor at or above (even better) eye level. This means if you have a laptop you need a monitor riser and a wired or wireless keyboard and mouse. Trust me the money invested in these is worth it.
Shoulders should be at rest and arms in the 90/90 position (meaning you should have a 90 degree bend at the elbow and shoulder at rest with little to no forward flexion)
Use the Posture medic 15 min every hour to help train upright posture – this may mean you need to raise your monitor even more as you get better! Don’t be afraid to do that!
If you have the ability and means get a sit/stand desk and change position every hour or two – remember cumulative trauma is the thing that causes problems so don’t let them accumulate so long!
This week I will continue down the road of posture and give you my favorite upper back strengthening exercise to help with posture and losing the slouch of your upper back and shoulders.
Strengthening the muscles that this exercise targets is important for upper back pain because they are generally muscles that tend to be weakened in people and cause poor posture. So since poor posture can be a cause of upper back pain in the first place, it is important to fix the underlying cause, or at least one of them. Remember though doing this exercise will help you best when combined with adjustments. If the joints are just not moving you are essentially running into a brick wall. The adjustment helps free up the mobility and then we need to retrain the muscles. Both parts are important, or we will just end up doing the same thing over and over again and not correcting the posture.
My favourite exercise for upper back strengthening is wall angels. You need a bit of empty wall space for this one. Stand with the back of your heel and your butt touching the wall. Put your arms up over your head in a ‘cactus’ position and make sure your upper arms, forearms, wrists and hands are touching the wall and stay flat against it the whole time. This sounds simple but is the hardest part. Now slowly draw your elbows down skimming the wall until they get as close to your waist as you can. Repeat this 5-10 times (start with 5).
This sounds easy but is really hard and most people let their hands and/or wrists come up off the wall at some point. The goal is to keep them flat. Try squeezing the muscles between your shoulder blades when you do this.
To see the YouTube video that I made for this exercise please click here
Last week we talked about back packs – good (and bad) use of backpacks definitely play right into upper back pain and posture over time so if you missed it click here for the link to it. This week more on posture.
I get asked all the time about the relationship between poor posture and upper back pain. There is a direct relationship for sure. Poor posture and slouching puts pressure on lots of different spinal structures. I know I keep saying this, but damage is cumulative and builds over time. Eventually one day you wake up in pain and aren’t sure why. Or maybe you do something small like lift a glass and “ouch!”. Well, the glass wasn’t too heavy it was just the last thing. The thing that broke the camel’s back. Yes, you are the camel in this example.
What to do about bad posture and upper back pain
Best thing to do is prevention. So, we need to help correct posture before it turns into upper back pain or any other pain. I get moms of teens in the office all the time worried about their teenager’s posture. And for good reason! If we can help correct bad habits before they become too ingrained, it is better for everyone. So, what do we do. For most people we start with a series of adjustments because if the joints are just not moving you could do all the stretching and yoga you would like but you are basically running up against a brick wall. That brick wall is your joints and if they aren’t moving through their normal range of motion, you need an adjustment or a series of them to get them moving again.
Ok I got adjusted – now what
For posture correction one of the tools I use is something called the posture medic. I sell this product at the office and it is a stretchy tube with padding that you put on like a backpack and it helps serve as a reminder not to slouch and put your shoulders back as we are helping correct your posture. While it wont fix anything it will help break habits and build new ones if you use it! I usually suggest people wear it for 15 minutes every hour they are sitting at their computer to start. That adds up to a lot in an 8-hour workday!