Solutions for your back, shoulder & knee pain
Every day I meet someone new that either has a bad back, aching knees, and/or pain in their shoulders. These areas of our bodies are the most vulnerable to injury and inflammation due to the limited amount of muscular support and flexibility around them as we age and also how we abuse and overuse them each day. Most of the time there isn't even an underlying injury that causes pain and swelling in these areas. And many times, if people are feeling pain, their first thought is to pop an ibuprofen or pain pill to get rid of it, causing them to soon forget about it, without really addressing the problem. When we continue this pattern it soon becomes ingrained in our minds that popping pills is the cure for anything. Well, I am here to tell you that popping a pill will most likely just mask the pain but won’t ever make it fully go away. Also, in some cases taking pills only exasperates the problem because once we no longer feel pain, we treat our bodies as if there is no longer anything wrong. Pain is there to warn us that something isn't right and that we should rest or at least address the area of pain.
I want to talk about the main issues that I find in these 3 areas that cause pain without actual injury; issues that can most likely be permanently fixed without popping pills for the rest of your life.
Let’s start with our back. Much of the time we experience back pain because we are sedentary and are sitting for extended periods of time. What this sitting causes, in our lower region, is our hips and back muscles to shorten and stay shortened. These muscles then pull on other surrounding muscles, causing them to be over stretched and in turn flip the pain sensors on. The same thing happens with the upper back and shoulders. When we sit in flexion over a computer or in a chair all day, our chest muscles begin to shorten, tighten, and then pull on our shoulder and upper back muscles in the wrong direction. Again, this will cause your pain sensors to go off and cause that upper back, neck, and shoulder pain. So, what is the solution to resolving this type of pain you ask? That’s easy, move often, hydrate, and stretch!
It is a good rule of thumb to get up every hour and stretch your legs, back, and chest. This won’t allow muscles to become accustomed to their shortened states.
Your muscles also need water to allow for maximum pliability and contraction, so ensure you're getting plenty of water each day, at least 64 oz. And NO tea, beer, lemonade, or soda do NOT count as hydrating, in fact consuming these actually make us more dehydrated.
For upper back pain I suggest a door frame chest stretch. You can do one arm at a time or both depending on the width of your chest and the door frame you are using. This stretch will effectively elongate your chest muscles and allow a release of the upper back.
A) Start by placing both arms, bent at the elbows at 90 degrees, on the edges of your door frame. Step one leg forward and drop your chest into the stretch. Hold for 15 seconds or more. Repeat 3x.
B) Start with one arm bent at the elbow at 90 degrees and place it on one side of the door frame at shoulder height. Lean into that arm and slightly twist your torso away from the arm being stretched. Hold for 15 seconds or more. Repeat 3x on each side.
Stretching the neck muscles with these 3 easy stretches below will help to drop the shoulder blades and stop that nagging upper back pain as well.
First tilt your head to one side, bringing your ear close to your shoulder. Slightly pull down on the head and hold. Then look towards your upper arm (bicep) and tilt the chin downwards towards your arm pit, slightly pull down and hold. Complete these two stretches on both sides, holding for 15 seconds or more. Lastly, clasp both hands behind your head and tuck your chin downwards. Slightly pull down with your hands and hold for 15 seconds or more. Complete this 3x. You can add a neck roll in the clockwise direction 10x and then the counter clockwise direction 10x at the end to really gain a good stretch of all your neck muscles.
Fun fact: If your neck is tight it can cause headaches and migraines that last long periods of time.
The lower back has many muscles attached to it that can become shortened and over time cause the back to be over stretched and in constant nagging pain. A few of these muscles include the hamstrings, glutes, IT band, and hip flexors. To help with this lower back pain and tightness I suggest the following stretches that really help elongate the listed muscles above. Most of these stretches will also be beneficial to relieving knee pain.
A) Sit on a chair and cross one leg over the opposite knee as if sitting with crossed legs. Now lean forward and hold for 15 seconds or more. You should feel a deep stretch in your hips and lower back. Switch your legs and hold the other side for 15 seconds as well. You should complete each side 3x.
B-C) Start in a kneeling position with one leg in front of the other. Push your pelvis forward and place your hands on either side of your front leg. You should feel a nice groin and quad stretch. Hold for 15+ seconds. Now push your butt backwards and straighten your front leg. Flex your toe towards your face and you should feel a deep hamstring stretch. Hold for 15 seconds and flow back to stretch B.
D) Bend one leg in front of you so that it is perpendicular to your body. Push the opposite leg back behind you, straightening it out if you can. If you can't straighten your back leg fully then keep the knee bent. Lean towards your foot in front of you and you should feel a great hip, hamstring, IT band, and lower back stretch.
The next body part I want to tackle is the shoulders. Much of the time shoulder pain is caused by sleeping wrong, bad lifting techniques, poor posture, overuse, and weak muscles. My favorite shoulder stretches for tightness that causes pain include the yoga stretches called the (A) downward dog and (B) prayer pose.
A) Downward dog- Start in a pushup position centered over your hands. Push your buttocks up and back, extending your arms straight, and dropping your head between your arms. Hold this position for 15 seconds. Repeat 3x.
B) Prayer pose- Start by kneeling on both knees in front of a chair. Clasp your hands together and place your elbows on the chair. Scoot your legs back from the chair so that you may drop your head down between your arms. Hold this position for at least 15 seconds and repeat 3 times.
Overall, it is important to note that our body is a circuit and every muscle is connected from your head all the way down to your toes. When one area tightens up it throws the whole circuit off, causing pain in our most vulnerable areas like our neck, back, shoulders, and knees. Moving often, stretching, and hydrating are the best cures for this type of pain. So, try the above stretches today, drink at least 64 oz of water a day, get up out of your chair every hour, and I can guarantee you will find some relief and maybe even be able to put that bottle of Aleve or ibuprofen away for good.
For more tricks and tips on how to keep yourself happy and healthy come join us for a free class or consultation with a fitness expert today.
Kaley Hallowich NCSF CPT NCCPT BS MS