You can blame modern society for the large number of upper back pain complaints that people are experiencing. Our heads are designed to be balanced over our shoulders, looking out at the horizon, perhaps scanning for food or enemies or predators. Instead, we spend much of our day with our heads forward and down. We are hunched over the computer or the desk or the cell phone. Then we’ll go home and hunch over dinner and perhaps watch some TV slouching on the sofa.
This forward head posture, or as I like to call it The Posture of the 21st Century, puts additional stresses onto the muscles and joints in the neck and upper back area. If you think about it, our head weighs quite a bit. In fact it weighs 25 pounds, about as much as a bowling ball. When it’s balanced directly over the shoulders, the surrounding muscles can maintain the position of the head and allow for normal movements relatively easily. But for each inch that the head shifts forward an additional 15 pounds of stress goes into the joints, ligaments and muscles in that area. Think of holding a bowling ball right next your chest versus holding it arm’s length. It is easy to picture which position is easier.
When patients come to see me complaining of upper back pain, I will examine the area to find out what is generating the pain. It may be muscle spasms, misaligned vertebrae, strained ligaments or a combination of all those conditions. By gently adjusting the misaligned bones, basically getting them back into place, and doing soft tissue work on the muscles, the patient can experience significant relief. The other half of the solution is to give the patient specific stretches and exercises they can do it home to compensate for the hours they are spending with their head forward. Some simple ergonomic tips such as raising their computer monitor so that they’re looking straight ahead instead of down can also be extremely helpful.
While it is not an option to take the patient out of the 21st century, a 21st century solution can be applied to better help the patient find relief from their upper back pain and compensate for the physical stresses of modern life.