Do you find your shoulders tight and upper back painful at the end of the day? Do you find yourself slouching as you gaze at your computer screen? There is almost certainly a connection.
When you type on a computer all day, your hands and arms are extended out in front of you palms down. This causes the pectoral muscles in your chest to pull the shoulders forward. This forward rotation causes the muscles in the upper back—the rhomboids and trapezius, which pull against the pectorals—to become strained.
Muscles are like ropes in that they can only pull. In order to move in the opposite direction, another set of muscles is needed to pull the other way. Thus when one set of muscles—such as the pectorals—pulls, the rhomboids and trapezius, which perform the opposite motion, must contract in response.
Since the pectorals are much larger and stronger than the rhomboids and trapezius, they tend to win this muscular tug-of-war, and you end up slouching forward with tight shoulders and upper back.
This postural imbalance can not only create a lot of pain, but also encourages shallow breathing, which can make you feel fatigued.
But bringing the body back into balance can be done with the right effort. Here are three ways to stretch and strengthen your muscles to encourage proper posture. Doing these regularly can give you more energy and decrease upper-back pain.
1. Pectoral Stretch
Stretch those pectorals in a doorway. This stretch will loosen up the chronic tightness that is often the result of shoulder-forward posture.
Stand in a doorway and grasp the door frame at about shoulder height. Go lower if shoulder height is not comfortable.
Then slowly lean forward, keeping the feet in the same spot, so the arms extend behind you. You will quickly feel this stretch in the chest, so ease into it, making sure to take deep breaths as you go. Hold for about half a minute the first time. Gradually increase the time as you become more used to it, working your way toward two minutes.
Do this two to three times throughout the workday if possible or give yourself a good stretch in the evening.
2. Pinky Turnout
Turning your pinkies out is the opposite of the position you hold when you type and helps to strengthen the muscles that perform this opposite motion. You can do this sitting or standing, and even while at your keyboard.
Turn your hands so the palms face up. Then turn the pinkies away from the midline of your body. The midline is an imaginary line that divides your body into right and left halves.
Start gently, and don’t turn the pinkies too far right away. Hold for 5–15 seconds.
Gradually increase the degree to which you turn the pinkies and the time spent holding this stretch.
3. Upper-Back Booster
This exercise helps break up the pectoral dominance in our posture and strengthen the rhomboids that pull against them.
Pinch your shoulder blades together tight.
Focus on pinching the different regions of the shoulder blades together in sequence: first the top, then the middle, then the bottom.
Hold for 5–10 seconds. Repeat three to five times.
Reid Schram was formerly a licensed massage practitioner.
All photos by Benjamin Chasteen/Epoch Times Staff