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  • It’s Time to Think Outside the Back

    low back pain
    Photo courtesy ABMP

    Many muscular causes of back pain do NOT originate in the back. Don’t believe me? When was the last time you got a massage because you had pain between your shoulder blades? Did your therapist spend most or even all of the session working on your back? If so, I bet it felt good while s/he was working, but perhaps you didn’t really feel better afterward or even the next day. Maybe it felt better for a while but then started hurting worse than it had before. If you’re like most people; the cause of your pain does not originate at the location of the pain.

    Using our above example, think about the muscles  that attach to your shoulder blades. Some attach to the edge closest to your spine and some attach to the edge farthest from your spine. Simply put, these muscles have opposite actions; one set pulls your shoulder blade toward your spine while the other set pulls your shoulder blade toward your side, away from your spine. If one set is stronger or has gotten a lot more use, it pulls harder than the other set which pulls  your shoulder blade “off center”. It’s as if they’re playing a game of tug of war.

    Now, think of the last tug of war game you either watched or participated in. Which team was yelling and grunting the loudest? The one that was losing and being pulled toward the mud puddle in the middle, right? Well, your muscles are no different. The “losing” muscles are usually the ones screaming for attention but rarely are they the ones responsible for the pain. Over time, other muscles may get involved as well, either in an attempt to help the weak muscles stabilize the area or to take advantage of the situation and pull things farther off center.

    With that in mind, here are few of the culprits that might be causing your upper back pain:

    • chest muscles
    • shoulder muscles
    • upper arm muscles
    • neck muscles
    • side muscles
    • underarm muscles
    • muscles underneath your shoulder blade
    • muscles that connect your vertebrae to one another
    • hip or low back muscles (yes, for real!)

    With all this in mind, try taking some time to check in with your body to see if your shoulders are migrating up toward your ears, if your shoulders are rounded forward, if your upper arms are really tight, or if your side or your armpit muscles are tender when you press on them. If so, the likely culprit of your upper back pain is one of those and NOT the back muscles themselves.

    What did you find when you checked in with your body? Do you have a tug of war going on that you were unaware of before now? Any new insights into your painful areas? I’d love to hear what you discover about yourself, if you’re willing to share, that is.

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