The Real Reason Your Neck and Upper Back Hurt

If you are alive, you have probably experienced neck and upper back pain at some point in your life. For many it is a chronic issue that causes daily discomfort and has serious long term consequences. The irony of back pain is that it is usually not caused by your back at all but by the front of your body. By understanding where back pain comes from and applying some simple exercises, you can start to erase your pain and improve your health.

Forward Head Posture

Forward head posture is when the head protrudes forward of the shoulders as imaged below. It usually is accompanied by a forward neck and shoulders. It’s no surprise that most of us have a certain degree of forward head posture considering that all the activities of life are in front of us (i.e computers, driving, eating). The problem is, according to Dr. Adalbert I. Kapandji, author of “The Physiology of Joints,” that for every inch your head is craned forward, 10lbs of effective weight is added to the cervical spine. This added weight can cause herniations in your cervical spine, headaches, migraines, TMJ, breathing problems as well as the standard neck pain and back pain.

In attempt to manage the extreme load imposed  by your forward head posture, the muscles of your neck and upper back end up spending each day in an all out struggle to keep your head from falling any more forward. You experience this as a “tight” or stress filled upper back and neck. Often our response is to massage or stretch the areas of pain. Unfortunately, this won’t solve the problem because the muscles aren’t overly tight, they are overstretched! 

The solution lies in stretching and opening the muscles of the front of the body, chest and neck as well as strengthening the muscles of our upper back and neck. Check out the exercises below to improve your posture and enjoy the benefits of less pain and more energy.

ThinkstockPhotos-178132391

Supported Upper Back Bend

Since we spend all day curled forward, spending 5 or 10 minutes (throughout or at the end of day) arched back is a great way of gently stretching open the front of the body and rest the overworked muscles of the upper back and neck. Assume either of the positions imaged below, slowly relax and take deep breaths. When you are ready to come out of the exercise, be sure tuck your chin, engage your abdominals and use the support of your arms to come out of the position slowly.

physioball

Physioball

Supported Back Bend: Place a rolled yoga mat under your spine.

Door Frame Chest Stretch

Operating vehicles, phones and computers all use the muscles of our chests and shoulders which contribute to drawing the head and shoulders forward. The door frame stretch imaged below is a great way to open up your wings. Assume the positions below, maintain each position for 10 slow deep breaths, allowing gravity and your own relaxation to stretch you deeper with each exhale.

Chest stretch

Posture Wall Press

This corrective exercise is awesome because it both strengthens our posture muscles and recalibrates our sense of posture. Stand with your back against the wall as pictured below, press the back of your head, upper back, hips and heals into the wall. As you press your head into the wall, tuck your chin slightly. The first few times you do this, it may feel really weird, as if you were pushing to far back or would fall over without the wall. This is because your nervous system is so used to being in a forward head posture that it thinks the vertical wall must be wrong. Hold your posture against the wall for at least one minute and breath slowly in your chest and back. Repeat throughout the day. 

against the wall

Related:
10 Yoga Poses for People Who Sit All Day
9 Ergonomic Tips for Sitting at the Computer

204 comments

Jan S
Jan S16 days ago

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Jan S
Jan S16 days ago

Thanks.

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Mike R
Mike R10 months ago

Thanks

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Mike R
Mike R10 months ago

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Mike R
Mike R11 months ago

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Mike R
Mike R11 months ago

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W. C
W. Cabout a year ago

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William C
William Cabout a year ago

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Sonia M

Thanks for sharing

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Elena Poensgen
Elena Poensgen2 years ago

Thank you

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