Working at a desk all day, commuting, typing, washing dishes, whatever it is you do, it seems that everything involves hunching over or leaning forward. By the end of the day you are all knotted up in the shoulders and upper back. This hunching, excessive upper back curvature (called a hyper-kyphosis) forces the back, shoulder, and neck muscles to work extra hard in order to support the torso and head.
What has happened is that the front of the body has collapsed and contracted. Often the muscles and fascia of the chest and the front of the neck have become chronically tight or even shortened. This creates a tug of war between the muscles in the front of the body and those in the back. The musculature in the front of the body almost always wins, causing the muscles of the upper back shoulders and neck to be over stretched and fatigued from the constant battle. Trying to maintain ‘perfect posture’ merely creates more stress on the tissues. Stretching the muscles of the upper back and neck gives only temporary relief and actually adds to the problem in the long run. It is the front of the body which needs to be stretched out and the shortened muscles and fascia lengthened. Deep tissue bodywork is way to accomplish this. But what can you do yourself?
Take a blanket and roll it up into a cylinder at least 6 inches in diameter and as wide as your body. Lay on your back with the roll beneath you so that it is under the apex of the curve in the upper back. This forces the chest out and the upper torso into an arch. Very similar to what you might do with a Physioball or Swiss Ball. The difference is that the roll is much more specific than the ball.
Breathe deeply into the chest and shoulders. Raise your arms and reach past your head and stretch the chest out occasionally lifting the head with the chin tucked in so as to lengthen the neck Try to relax into the stretch, and again breathe relaxing more with every exhale. You can do this all the way down the back, or just focus on the area where your upper back sticks out the most. A few minutes a day is all it takes. In time you will find that your upper back begins to straighten out. Your upper back and neck will be less fatigued and no longer seem to get hunched and stuck all the time.
You can get firm closed cell foam rolls designed for this and a variety of other self-care exercises. Sometimes called Feldenkrais™ or Trager™ Rolls, they can be purchased through the Loveland Orthopedic Massage online store. If you choose to use a blanket be sure to roll it up tightly so that it won’t compress much. Remember that self-care does not take the place of professional health care. Be sure to consult a physician or chiropractor if you are in pain or suspect that you have an injury