The upper back and neck- Mobility class Saturday July 10th 2015.

The Upper Back- Mobility Class Saturday July 10th 2015

This piece of education is a brief outline as to what I will speak about in Mobility class (drop in fee $20) at APT Studios (#180-4255 Arbutus Street), which runs every Saturday.

– ย How many people get pain or stiffness in the neck?

– ย Try reaching up and with two fingers pushing down on the top part of your shoulder (close to your neck though), is it tight?

– ย What about limited range of motion? Can you sit tall and turn just your had to look all the way to the right and left? What about tucking your chin down to your chest (without moving your back). Try looking all the way up and behind you (again without moving your back).

– ย Do you get headaches frequently?

– ย Do you often feel the need to dig something in between your shoulders because there is a โ€˜knotโ€™ in there?

– ย Do you work at a desk? Carry a purse?

If you said yes to any of those, please read on to educate yourself a bit about the structure of the upper back, and how many of your symptoms can be avoided.

Letโ€™s first consider that the musculature in the back is ONLY held there by muscular strength. ย Unlike other areas of the body, there aren’tย joint structures, or other tissues holding the back muscles up into good posture. This is why over time, if we allow those muscles to be stretched out (standing or sitting in poor posture, especially at a desk), then we begin to look a little bit like this:

upper back 2

For this person, all those muscles in the back of the shoulder blade area, and up through the neck are OVER STRETCHED. They are being pulled into a lengthened position and are most likely WEAK and very UNHAPPY. This is causing that stiffness, tightness, and lack of range of motion you are experiencing. ย You don’t have to have as extreme rounding of the shoulders and posture problems as he does to have neck pain.

Also, as you can see, when we stand like this, our head is much too far forward from where it is supposed to be sitting on the spine. Depending on how far forward your head position is this completely taxes the cervical spine (the upper vertebrae in your spinal column), and your head ends up putting a lot more pressure on your upper neck than it should. This is where headaches come in! ย ย ย The picture below demonstrates how the head gets heavier and heavier for the neck to support the more you are stooped forward.

upper back 3

Next, I want you to take a look at where the Levator Scapulae is on your neck

upper back 4

I want you to use your hand and try to find it on your neck, it is one of the thick bands that runs down kind of behind your ear, and attaches into the top of your shoulder blade. Why is this muscle so important? The Levator Scapulae’s function is to raise the shoulder blade (itโ€™s name tells us exactly itโ€™s function.

The back muscles such as the mid and lower fibres of the trapezius, and rhomboids that are supposed to be strong and supporting our shoulder blade to rest in a good position on our back. When the are overstretched and weak ย (from not using them, and being in poor posture), they stop holding your shoulder blades back into the position they should be in. ย AS a result, the levator scapulae can sometimes almost be โ€˜hanging in thereโ€™, basically holding on to that shoulder blade for dear life because noone else in the back is doing the work they should be! (The levator scap is one of a few that ends up feeling tighter than it should, I mention it here because itโ€™s one of the oneโ€™s I see most commonly).ย ย  When this guy gets too tight he is really going to restrict the motion of your neck in various positions.

One of the other main culprits is The Trapezius!.

upper back 6

Look at this beautiful diamond shaped muscle, the trapezius. It attaches up into the base of your skill, onto your shoulder blade, and along your spine. You can imagine how when you are stooped forward, or when you allow your chin to drop down (improper monitor height, or looking down onto a desk, or carrying a purse that presses into this muscle) how this guy is going to be stretched out and very unhappy. The forward head position, as I mentioned before, is going to cause your head to WEIGH a lot more, creating a lot more work for this trapezius. And again, itโ€™s over stretched position is not going to feel very pleasant for you.

Some of the other things that are leading to some of the pain and tightness in the upper neck and back are:

  • Tight muscles in the front (chest muscles, specifically the pec minor).
  • Really weak back muscles, such as the rhomboids, lats, and middle/lower traps

So with this little bit of education, let me explain what we will work on in mobility class this Saturday.


  1. Dynamically warm up the chest and back. Including Angel slides at wall, and forearem slides.
  2. Use foam roller and myofascial balls on: Trapezius, levator scap, rhomboids, lats, pec major and minor, sub occipital muscles.
  3. Start to introduce strengthening exercises for the upper back. (Iโ€™s, Tโ€™s, Yโ€™s for trapezius), shoulder blade squeezes with band for rhomboids, and seated rows. Because those upper back muscles are stretched out and weak, we can roll them a bit, but most of all they need some strengthening!
  4. Do some gently held stretches for the neck, upper back, and chest.
  5. Find proper posture in a standing position

You will leave feeling loser, with a happy neck and back, and tools for how to do these kind of stretches and exercises on your own J

Send me an e-mail if you would like to join.

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