Poor posture can cause your muscles to weaken and strain. This, in turn, causes continued poor posture, which reinforces the muscle strain. It’s a cycle that will need a healthy action to stop it from continuing.
Some of the most common activities like using a computer, driving, lifting, or even just writing can strain the back and neck muscles causing poor posture. This back strain can lead to a common ailment known as Upper Crossed Syndrome, where the chest and back of neck muscles are tight while the front of neck muscles and the upper back muscles are weak. Basically, there is an imbalance of muscle tension from the front of your chest around to your back. Symptoms to identify if this is affecting you is experiencing mid or upper back pain, a tense forward leaning neck, a rounded upper back, and internally rotated shoulders.
Fixing and maintaining a good posture throughout all activities is one of the best ways to alleviate this syndrome, but overuse or stress of both activity and inactivity can still cause this mid to upper back and neck pain.
So, what is the best thing you can do outside of the “in-the-moment” adjustments?
Stretching both the back AND the front of your body is a great option for non-surgical back pain relief.
Stretching the chest muscles will alleviate the tightness that is reinforcing the rounding of your back. If you imagine the muscles as a linked series of bands around your body, you can see how a tight front band (chest) will strain and stress the bands wrapping around the back of your body.
The best chest stretches to relieve back pain and correct poor posture are:
Face the wall, and extend your arm just above parallel to the ground. Open your body slowly until you feel the stretch through your arm, shoulder, and chest. You can also do this stretch with your arm slightly above and slightly below parallel for a modified version. Start easy, and do this stretch for eight seconds each arm. Repeat for a total of three times each arm.
Bridge Yoga Pose
Lie on your back, and make two fists. With straight arms, place your fists against each other beneath your body. Take a deep breath in, press through your sternum, and roll your shoulders back. This stretch can be held for three to five seconds, depending on how long you inhale. Exhale and lower back to the ground. Repeat this for five inhales.
In a lunge position, interlace your fingers and raise your straightened arms over your head. Continue pressing your interlaced hands up and back while pushing your chest through and your hips forward. This stretch can be done for 10 to 12 seconds and must be repeated with the opposite leg lunged forward.
Lie face down on the floor, and bring your heels up until you can reach with both hands. Grab the outside of each foot and extend through your legs. Allow the leg extension to lift your chest off the ground, pulling your arms back and shoulders open. Balance and hold this pose for eight seconds. Repeat two more times.
Wheel Yoga Pose (Called “Bridge” in Gymnastics)
This is an advanced stretch and should only be done with proper form. Lie on your back, and reach your hands up and back toward the ground. Plant your feet flat on the ground hip-width apart. Now, press through both your palms and the balls of your feet. Drive through your legs and work toward making them straight. The more straight they are the farther your chest will move through your shoulders, opening your chest and stretching your back. We recommend having a friend spot you on this stretch.
Also, any external shoulder rotation yoga poses..
You can do this after doing the Samson Stretch. In a lunge, bring your hands together at your chest in a prayer position. Twist toward the leg that is forward, and tuck your elbow outside that knee. Press the elbow against the knee and open your chest while maintaining the prayer hand position. Hold for five seconds (while breathing). Now, release the prayer and reach one hand toward the ground while the top hand reaches up and back toward the sky. Hold for five more seconds. Remember to do this stretch with the opposite leg forward, as well.
Tip: Start with a simple cat to cow yoga pose transition to warm up the back for the above stretches.
Start on your knees with your hands planted flat on the floor. Now, lift through your midsection, rounding your back. Slowly breathe in and out three times with this rounded back. Now, release the tension in your back and slowly lower your midsection until you begin to arch your back, pressing your stomach toward the ground. Slowly breathe in and out three times. Repeat a total of three times.
If you have severe back pain, we encourage you to schedule an appointment before performing these stretches. For those who make a habit of these chest stretches, if you find your back pain and symptoms continuing, we recommend scheduling an appointment. At Coastal Spine, we focus on non-surgical back pain relief first in our treatment options.