Yoga is an activity that can potentially benefit a lot of people in many different ways. Yoga can help pregnant women through childbirth for example and it can help athletes to improve their flexibility and even their core strength.
But perhaps the most popular use of yoga is for treating upper back pain. In this post, we’ll look at how yoga can improve your upper back pain, where the pain might be coming from and precisely which moves you need to use to deal with the discomfort.
There are several muscles that may be involved in your upper back pain but all of these are likely to be the same muscles that are responsible for keeping the shoulders, neck and upper back in the correct position and moving correctly in relation to one another.
For example, you have the trapezius muscle which is the large muscle located across the upper back. You can see this muscle bulging up on either side of your neck and it is used in movements such as shrugging. The trapezius is actually split into two separate muscles and is overlapped by the rhomboid that is responsible for scapula retraction (moving the shoulder blade backwards, in English). Then there’s the levator scapulae muscle on the side of the neck, which you use to lift the scapula. You have your lats slightly lower down meanwhile and the sternocleidomastoid muscles for turning the head from side to side (the trapezius also plays a role in this).
Upper back pain can have many different causes: it might be the result of a trapped nerve, it might be the result of a torn muscle, or it might be the result of a damaged bone. Very often though, you are likely to find that it is the result of tension in some of these muscles and potentially imbalances which exert uneven force and push the spine into uncomfortable positions.
And what really doesn’t help is our modern lifestyle. Take sitting at a desk all day typing for instance. This forces your upper back into a curved position as you have to look down at the screen, or alternatively forces the neck upward. On top of this, the arms are pulled forward while the legs are bent. There’s nothing wrong with this position per-say, the problem is that you are sitting like this for hours on end, which in turn causes certain muscles to shorten and become tighter, while others will get stretched and longer. Enter muscle imbalances, enter upper back pain!
So what does yoga do about this? Why yoga for upper back pain? Firstly, it allows you to relieve tension by improving flexibility. Gradually stretching the muscles helps to lengthen their resting state, so that they aren’t placing uneven strain on your joints. At the same time, it can help them to relax and thereby reduce discomfort caused by contraction. Yoga will gradually stretch and relieve tense and painful muscle, while at the same time encouraging you to walk and sit with a correct posture. It even helps to reduce stress through correct breathing and gentle movement, which can further help to relieve tension.
If you want to use yoga for upper back pain, then consider trying some of the following movements…
You can begin this pose by lying on your stomach with your face down. Now, gradually begin to lift your head followed by your shoulders and chest so they are up off the floor - make sure to use the muscles in your upper and lower back. If done right, your weight should be centered on your lower ribs, stomach and pelvis.
Now reach back with your hands so that they are parallel to the floor and then touch your fingertips together. If you can, bind your hands by folding your fingers together.
Hold the position with your gaze fixed forward for 30 seconds to 1 minute.
Another useful position for yoga for upper back pain is the reverse warrior pose, also called viparita virabhadrasana.
To perform this position, you are going to stand with the front leg bent around 90 degrees in front and your other leg behind and straight. Then begin to bring your back hand towards your back leg with your palm down and you’re going to turn the front palm upwards toward the ceiling. Now lean back with your neck and try to look directly up toward that front hand. Hold this pose for 30 seconds and then return.
The bridge pose works the lower back and shoulders but is important for overall balance and good health. Start by lying on your back on the floor and with your shoulders placed against the ground. Now, bring your knees up with your feet flat on the floor and your hands also pushing against it with your palms down. Slowly raise the buttocks off the floor to thrust the hips into the air and then hold the position for 30 seconds to a minute.
If you notice pain or discomfort during any of these positions, then don’t ‘push’ it any further. It is always advisable where possible to get professional instruction from a trained yoga teacher, as that way they will be able to guide you through the correct movements and help to ensure that your yoga for upper back pain will do the job. That and you’ll be able to learn a lot more moves like cat-cow pose that we didn’t have time to cover here.
As mentioned, there are many more benefits to practicing yoga regularly and in many ways, it is the perfect tonic for today’s busy lifestyle. Give it a try and you might just find yourself feeling fitter, more energetic, more flexible and generally healthier than you have done in a long time!