Upper Back and Shoulder Pain and Our Evolving Bodies

About a month ago I attended an acupuncture symposium, at which the keynote speaker talked about treating musculoskeletal injuries and pain. Early on in his presentation he made the remark that the bodies he treated thirty years ago are very different from those he treats today.

It took a minute for me to understand how profound a statement this was, because my first thought was, sure…we’re all getting older, so of course our bodies are different. But what he meant was that collectively our bodies are changing. We are evolving right before our very eyes.

So what’s happening, and why are we changing? A few things:

-For starters, we didn’t use computers thirty years ago in the way we do today. The vast majority of people Minneapolis Acupuncture Clinicaround the world are sitting at a keyboard typing away at work, on social media, and even watching TV. Thirty years ago, typing was delegated to the office assistant or secretary. Today, both your boss and your eight-year-old type.

-In addition, we text today…hunched over a phone firing off witty messages with our opposable digits.

-Have you watched kids heading off to the school bus lately? They are wearing backpacks loaded down with books, folders, and school supplies. The weight of those packs cause most kids to lean forward to stabilize that weight.

-Even more than thirty years ago, women carried handbags. These were purses, or where I grew up, pocketbooks, with a short handle. The idea was that they were to be carried in your hand. Today, most bags come with a shoulder strap and are meant to be worn over one shoulder. And if you’re like me, worn over the same shoulder all the time, causing one shoulder to be perpetually higher than the other.

So why are these changes a big deal? The answer is that the biomechanics of our daily lives have changed. Today our backs are hunched, shoulders are rolled forward, and one side is frequently elevated above the other. It becomes a big deal in that I see a lot of patients with rotator cuff muscle injuries, neck pain, shoulder pain, and headaches caused from this forward roll of our collective shoulders.

Here’s where acupuncture comes in. Though the use of some strategically placed needles, we can get those tight muscles to release, those painful shoulders to relax, and relieve the pain from chronic overuse and plain bad posture. In addition, your practitioner can give you some specific stretches and exercises to strengthen and stretch the muscles involved. There are also things that you can do to help relieve the tightness, pain, and forward roll. Among them:

-Change your biomechanics. Can you work some of the time standing up? Our devices are now small enough that we can move them to just about anywhere. When I have the chance, I work standing with my iPad at chest height, which helps my posture dramatically.

-Open up your chest through stretching. One of the easiest is to stand in a doorway with your forearms in the frame and stretch your chest open. Do this with your upper arms in a “T” position, and then raise them and stretch in a “Y” position.

-Put a note on your computer to check your posture. It will take repeated reminders to change how you sit.

-Check your stress. Like the hackles on an alarmed dog, we tend to carry our stress in our shoulders and at the base of our neck. Whether it’s meditation, yoga, fishing, or taking a long vacation, do what it takes to get your stress under some kind of control.

-Shrug it off, really. Bring your shoulders up to your ears in a classic shrug and hold it there for a few seconds. Then very consciously let go of the shrug–it works wonders in loosening up a tight neck and shoulders.

-Deal with your shoulder bag. Either get a handbag with a short handle or wear your shoulder bag around your neck and across your chest. Either solution will help any imbalance you’ve developed from a handbag perpetually perched on one shoulder.

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