Let me guess, you sit at a desk or drive more than four hours in a row per day, every day? Chances are, if you had a dynamic job that allowed you to use your body in a diverse way, you wouldn’t feel so sore in your mid-back. Our bodies were not designed to be so monolithic. With awareness of better body mechanics you can start to relieve your back pain mindfully.
The Reason Your Mid-Back Always Hurts
The reason your mid back hurts is because you are constantly bent forward. Muscles are nothing more than rubber bands—a pulley system for your bones. When your brain wants a bone to move, it activates a muscle or series of muscles to pull. Just like a rope pulley system, your body is most comfortable in a neutral position, when nothing is pulling; where both sides of the “rope” are equal.
When you are head forward over a desk or a steering wheel all day, your mid-back muscles are overstretched and the muscles on the front (anterior deltoid, pectoralis major and minor, etc.) are too short.
That’s a problem because your head and arms weigh something, a lot of something. Essentially, you are overstretching your back muscles and then asking them to work by holding up your head and arms. That is like taking a rubber band, pulling it taught and then asking it to carry weight.
When a rubber band is pulled taught and carries load, eventually it will develop microtears and break. However, our bodies are designed to cope with stress a bit differently. Like rubber bands, muscles will develop small microtears over time but unlike rubber bands, instead of breaking, our bodies will begin to lay down scar tissue in order to try to heal the microtears as quickly as possible.
Scar tissue is great in an emergency, it helps repair damage quickly but it doesn’t do it well. Furthermore, scar tissue does not have the same fluid exchange that healthy muscle tissue does. Without proper blood flow and lymph movement, immune function is limited. Thus, the crunch, crunch, crunch and ropy feel of your mid-back and shoulders is in part caused by a decrease in healthy muscle tissue and an increase in scar tissue.
In addition, scar tissue is not as strong as muscle tissue. Not only are you over stretching your muscles and asking them to work, but you are over time weakening them further. I bet when you began your desk job, you were okay for a year or two, and now you are not.
So What Can I Do to Relieve My Mid-Back Pain?
You have to work, so what can you do? The good news is, very good, somewhat regular, therapeutic massage that incorporates myofascial release and stretching can help. A highly trained massage therapist can begin to break up the scar tissue in those muscles.
When the scar tissue breaks up, your body has an opportunity to go back into the area and repair the muscle properly. Why doesn’t it do that in the first place? I’ll answer that question in another blog. 🙂 In addition, passive and active stretching from a skilled therapist can help undo all the damage sitting at a desk or in a car does all day. Overtime, it can help to establish a new normal and retrain your nervous system to help your cause.
The bad news is, if you don’t receive regular, skilled massage and/or stretch for at least 20 minutes every single day to “undo ” what you have done all day, the likelihood of that pain going away is slim. If you are not willing to stretch with precision, then your biggest gains will come at retirement and by that time, I hope the damage is repairable.
How Can I Prevent Mid-Back Pain in the Future?
Here is your take home, if you are bound to a desk or a car for your livelihood and that won’t change any time soon, budget for a monthly massage! Massage will be much, much cheaper than living with chronic discomfort or an actual surgery later in your life and will be much more fun! Also, and this is non-negotiable, surrender to strategic daily stretching!
Hopefully, you are in the daily habit of brushing your teeth and hair every day. If you can do that, you can do this. If you watch any amount of TV in a day, stretch while you are watching. Professional athletes need to stretch to perform, consider yourself a professional athlete for our technological time. Your body will thank you.
Wishing you health & wellness!
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