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Blog: On Health. On Writing. On Life. On Everything.

Upper Back Pain

July 10, 2010

Tags: movement, back pain, bones, bridge, buttocks, ecercises, Indian yoga statues, lower back pain, micro-movements, Museum of Fine Arts Boston, muscles, Oceanic Art, nape, neck, one leg standing pose, posture, shoulder, shoulder blade, snake in your spine, spine, stance, stretching, upper back pain, walking, yoga

In the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston I recently saw a figure from Oceania (here a similar picture from Africa - sorry, I have no clue how to make it larger and still sharp). The figure, barely a foot high, is carved from black wood and on first look seems rather crude. On second look, it reveals the perfect posture in a way I have otherwise seen only in Indian statues depicting ideal yoga stances.

The figure stands with soft knees slightly bent which struck me at first as a sort of ridiculous stance. Then one sees its graceful straight neck, with chin tugged in ever so delicately – and one gasps: This crude figure exhibits deep knowledge of musculo-skeletal workings.

If we could stand in this aware stance all the time, we would never suffer from upper back pain. Hunched as we are over computer screens, slouched onto chairs and sofas, unaware of our posture for hours and days on end, we do suffer. Here are a few exercises that should work against upper back pain:

• Micro-movements: Lie on your back – in bed, on the floor – and pull back one shoulder. Release, and pull back the other shoulder. Done repeatedly, it feels as if you wake up the snake in your spine, which starts undulating, writing. The movements are tiny. But they release muscle contractions from wrong posture. 21 times. Find new subtle ways of moving your spine.
• Stretching backward: Stand with knees soft and your buttocks tightened to protect your lower back (no use to swap upper back pain against lower back pain!). Bend backward and upward at the same time. Don’t collapse in your lower back area – it should feel like a puppet on a string, gently pulled back and up. At the same time, let go of your shoulders and let your shoulder blades glide down. The movement is a perfect up for the crown of your head, and a down for your shoulder blades. Once – whenever you think about it or feel the need to release your poor back.
• Lie on your back on the floor (this should not be done in bed, one needs a hard surface). Stand up your feet slightly apart. Raise your middle like a bridge. You now rest only on the nape of your neck and your feet. Slowly arch higher – without putting strain on your neck. Three times – but gently!
• Stand on one leg. I do this while I brush my teeth – so there is no extra waste of time. Lift one leg. Move it around – from side to side, upward, backward. Then the other leg. For a minute each. This strengthens pelvic and lower back muscles – without those your upper back has nothing to rely on.
• Walk as much as you can, preferably in hilly terrain. A strong upper back can only develop on the basis of strong legs and lower back muscles.

Do we get more stooped with aging? Or is the stooping aging us?
Aspen eyes, by Peggy Peters

Iguazu Falls, by Xin Liu

Alexa Fleckenstein M.D. 2012, by Lolita Parker jr.

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