Chances are, if you’re seeking a massage, it’s because you’re carrying stress in your upper back. This is a very common complaint, and it’s the focus of our article today.
We’ll talk first about the erectors, which, as a group, traverse the length of our spine, from neck to low back. If you can envision the spine as a column in the center of your back, these muscles (there are three of them) run in vertical strips along the length of it. Their primary purpose is to stabilize your spine, and also to facilitate side-to-side motion. If you spend a great deal of your time standing or walking, these muscles get a workout. Long massage strokes down your back can help relax them and provide relief.
Next, let’s talk about your rhomboids. So named for their shape, they lie between your scapula and your spine, and their function is to retract your shoulder blades — to bring them together. Now, because of the posture many of us adopt in seated jobs (i.e., hunched over a computer), these muscles don’t get much of a workout. They tend to stay stretched and weakened, compared with the muscles that serve to roll our shoulders toward the front. This creates strain in the rhomboids, which manifests in pain.
There are three important things you can do to help alleviate this pain.
Massage can help. I am trained to work these muscles in a way that doesn’t further stretch them and can actually help shorten them a little, which helps break the pain cycle. Their prolonged, stretched nature also can create sticking between the muscles and fascia (muscle coatings) that can be broken up with massage. This is, however, the most temporary of the fixes.
There are lots of exercises you can do to strengthen your rhomboids. Anything designed to bring your shoulder blades together, especially with resistance, helps break the cycle of overstretching in these muscles.
The most important daily thing you can do, as shown in the picture above, is being mindful of your posture. For many of us, our daily work routines create a cycle of rolling our shoulders forward and looking down, which creates a cascade of weakening muscles throughout our core. Focus on keeping your head and shoulders back. This straightens your spine; straightens and strengthens your core; and, yes, pushes your shoulder blades together.
Next week, we’ll talk about your neck and shoulders.
Be well, healthy, and whole,