Muscle imbalances and upper body pain. As human beings that sit, lie down and move around, we all have muscles imbalances, which is fairly normal, but they are worth looking at when we start to get some discomfort from them. Before you continue reading, let’s get one thing out of the way. Pain is not good and not your friend. I’m not talking about a little discomfort or the kind of soreness you feel after a workout, but the kind of persistent uncomfortable pain that makes you reach for medication. If you feel pain on a continuous basis while working out or not, you should absolutely see a doctor. If you don’t have an underlining condition, however, pain can also be the result of muscle imbalances which can be caused by poor posture or by the jobs we do everyday.
MUSCLE IMBALANCES AND UPPER BODY PAIN
Headaches or neck pain causes. I’m one of those lucky people who is sensitive to pressure changes and can always tell you when a storm is brewing. Sometimes, however, I get headaches because the muscles in my back are tight. It starts with a small inconvenient discomfort in my mid back right under my shoulder blade. More of an annoyance than anything else, I usually ignore it but throughout the day my entire upper back starts to seize up and by the afternoon, I’m usually suffering from a killer headache. It took me some time to figure out what was causing it and I finally understood (with the help of a great physiotherapist) that my teres and rhomboid muscles were weaker and not working properly. This is actually quite a common complaint because of the time we spend at the computer.
Check your shoulder placement. This is one of the first things I always tried to teach new clients. Stand in front of a mirror and just look at your shoulders. Many of you will notice that one shoulder is slightly higher than the other. Perhaps one set of muscles is more developed than the other. What you’ll want to do in that case is stretch out the tighter (aka more developed) muscles while building up the weaker side.
Shoulder & neck stretch. Sitting up straight on a chair or on the edge of your bed, plant your feet on the floor. Gently tilt just your head to one side and press the opposite hand away from you. Hold for 10 seconds. Then, clasp your hands behind your head and very gently press your chin down toward your chest. In order to target the back of your neck, it’s important to keep your spine as straight as possible.
Rows. Holding your free weights and standing with your feet a foot width apart, bend forward keeping a straight back until you are almost parallel to the floor. Pull your elbows straight back and up to the ceiling while drawing the weights toward your chest. To increase the difficulty of this move, try lifting one of your legs behind you. You can also do this move sitting upright and pulling your arms back while holding an exercise band. Do 3 sets of 15-20 reps each. See more shoulder and arm exercises here.
Check your head placement. If you see that your shoulders are fairly even (don’t forget, we aren’t robots and nobody is 100% symmetrical) then it could be that your head leans forward. On paper, an ideal posture has your head sitting evenly in between your shoulders. You might need to ask a friend to determine this for you. What they are looking for is whether or not your ears are in line with your shoulders when they see you from the side. Even if you don’t have this problem, take a second and jut your head forward. See what happens? Your shoulders curl forward and your back starts to round. This was a very common problem for the rock climbers I worked with and luckily it can easily be reversed.
Back extensions. These are so fun and have a ton of different variations. Lying prone (face down) on the floor, keep your arms by your sides and feel like you are gently lifting your belly button away from the floor. Inhale and on your exhale, feel like you are getting longer as you gently lift your upper body off the floor, squeezing your shoulder blades together. Take a breath and lower back to your start position. This can also be done with your hands in front of your forehead. I’m a big fan of this being done on an exercise ball as it adds an element of instability. Do 1 or 2 sets of 15 reps each.
Wall Extensions both arms. This is another great stretch/exercise to do if you are experiencing any pain or tightness in your shoulders, upper back or neck. Standing in a door frame, bend your elbows at 90 degrees palms up and facing forward. Place your forearms on either side of the door frame and lean forward. You should feel a deep stretch across the front of your shoulders and pectoral muscles. Tip: if door frames are uncomfortable for your body, you can also perform this stretch in any room corner. Place your elbows on the perpendicular walls and gently lean into the corner. For maximum effect, repeat with your arms above, level with and below your head.
In all the years I spent training people, one valuable lesson I learned was to never accept pain or discomfort. There is always a reason behind it and it’s your body’s way of telling you that something needs to be fixed. Never be afraid to speak up for your body and your well being.
How do you deal with upper body pain?
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