Sedentary lifestyles can contribute to neck and upper back pain. To combat the extra time you’ve spent binge watching Netflix during the shelter in place order, here are a few rehab exercises you can do to keep your neck and upper back feeling good.
Before we show the exercises let’s talk a little bit about the relation to poor posture and neck or pain first.
At Cornell University Department of Ergonomics, researchers found that up to 90% more pressure is applied to your lower back when you sit versus when you stand.
According to the National Institute of Arthritis/ MSK and Skin Diseases, back pain is one of the American’s most common health problems, with 1 out of 4 people experiencing back pain 1 day out of every 3 months.
From my experience with treating patients with various neck and low back conditions, a lot of these patients also had bad posture. And guess what? Poor posture can be prevented!
As, you can see from the picture above, having better posture while lifting and doing everyday activity like sitting can have dramatic impacts on the amount of pressure we exert on our lumbar discs.
The two most common patterns of posture that I see related to pain and dysfunction.
Lower Cross and Upper Cross
Upper Cross and Lower Cross Syndrome basically refer to a movement pattern in our body where one side becomes too tight (from posture, activity, etc) and the other side then becomes weak in comparison.
In Upper Cross Syndrome, we generally have extremely tight pectoral and upper trapezius muscles with weakened rhomboids, lower trapezius, and deep neck flexors.
In Lower Cross Syndrome, we almost always see a combination of tight hip flexors (psoas, iliopsoas), with a weak glute and subsequent weak abdominal muscles and tight low back muscles (erector spinae).
What does this mean?
In upper cross you will see someone with a slumped or rounded mid back and a head that juts out forward. This not only makes you shorter, but it also puts more pressure on your discs and the nerves around your neck! Did you know that for every inch your head translates forward, your head subsequently weighs 10lbs heavier! So if your head translates two inches anteriorly, that’s 20lbs of extra stress on your cervical spine.
Lower Cross Syndrome typically causes anteriorly rotated pelvis. See the diagram below:
Now this image might seem like an exaggeration, but some degree of this type of posture is seen very often and it can contribute to low back pain. With an anterior pelvic tilt, which we can often contribute to prolonged sitting or a more sedentary lifestyle, is a result in the hip flexor pulling our pelvis forward (anteriorly) and our glutes and core not being strong enough to compensate for the pulling. This posture can stress the hip joints and lumbar vertebrae, as well as make it difficult to stabilize our core, further subjecting us to an increased chance of injury. The forward rotation of the pelvis can also cause more tightening in the hamstrings, which can cause further strain on the low back.
Now that we have a basic understanding of some of the most common postural faults and the impacts they can have, these exercises should mean more, they also require little to none equipment to do. These 4 exercises are going to be on upper cross. The next blog post will be over lower cross..
Pec Stretch: When our pec muscles are tight, they can pull us into a forward flexed position, putting extra stress on the cervical spine. There are several ways to stretch our pecs, but I prefer the stretch highlighted in this video here.
Try to hold for 30 seconds for each angle, and try to do this for 2 min per side. Research shows it takes 2 mins of stretch to make structural changes to the tissue. We want to make changes right? Right!
Chin Tucks: One of the most successful exercises for combating neck pain is the chin tuck. This exercise helps strengthen the muscles that pull the neck back into alignment over the shoulders while also stretching the right scalene and sub-occipital muscles. You can find the link to the video here.
The key to chin tucks or chin retractions is start in a neutral position. So many of my patients would exaggerate this motion and really jut their neck forward to start. You don’t need to do this! Start in a neutral posture position then retract your neck like you are trying to avoid your grandma from kissing you! This is a very easy exercise that can be done anywhere! I routinely tell patients to do these in the car against the headrest multiple times per day. You will find it gets harder and harder to keep our neck back in upright posture, ears in line shoulder, and shoulder in lines with hips, and hips in line with ankle as we get older and continue our fight against gravity and sitting. Aim for 20 reps multiple times per day.
Like these exercises ? Let me know if the comments? Have neck or back pain that won’t go away? Send us a message for a free call!
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Paul Jackson Mansfield DPT, BS, MS, Donald A. Neumann PhD, PT, FAPTA, in Essentials of Kinesiology for the Physical Therapist Assistant (Third Edition), 2019
Mean Body Weight, Height, Waist Circumference, and Body Mass Index Among Adults: United States, 1999–2000 Through 2015–2016