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  • Writer's pictureTeam TAOT

Upper and Middle Back Pain? The Why and How to Fix It!

Let me give you the secret recipe, the answer right up front:

Start moving in all the ways you currently don't.

If you need more on! ;)

There are two major causes of pain in our bodies I want to help you, the reader, understand.

The first is too little movement (too little demand), and the second is too much movement (too much demand). And these problems are fundamentally interconnected. Because wherever you have too little movement, there will undoubtedly be a compensatory (opposing) reaction elsewhere in the body of too much movement.

Here is what I mean. If you have very stiff and restricted hip mobility and a stiff middle back, what area do you think will be very overworked and therefore have too much movement?

The low back!

And while the stiff hips and middle back might give off a nagging ache, it might be in the lower back where a ruptured disc occurs and sends you into sharp debilitating pain...and it was, sadly, never the poor low back's fault!

So what do we do? How do we think about our issues?

I would say there are two easier strategies for improving your body.

Step 1: Understand that there are normal human patterns, then try to fight against them.

We are all humans, therefore we typically get human problems. As different and unique as we all can be, most of us will still succumb to the same few ailments over a lifetime (cancer, heart disease, disc herniations, arthritis, presbyopia, cavities, etc...).

So what are some typical human patterns as they relate to musculoskeletal pain?

  • Low back pain, disc, and sciatica injury and pain

  • Tight calves and stiff ankles

  • Stiff hips (poor internal rotation) that cause hip pinching

  • Stiff ribs. Poor thoracic (middle back) rotation.

  • Weak hamstrings. Weak abdominals.

  • Overworked lower back muscles. Tight hip flexors.

  • Tight traps. Tight pecs. Headaches. Neck pain.

  • Weak retractors (middle back muscles). "Poor posture".

How does knowing patterns help us? In the majority of cases, it will give you the blueprint to the answers!

So let us use the middle and upper back as an example. What are the typical human patterns here?

  • Achey dull pain, not sharp

  • Stiff feeling. Lacking movement

  • Feels like it needs to be "cracked"

  • Associated headaches

  • Worsens with age

  • Associated with decreased shoulder function

So as someone who works with people in pain for a living, these complaints direct my attention to a major contributing deficit.

Lack of movement.

Lack of total movement. Lack of movement variety. Lack of movement regularity.

There is a reason younger people rarely complain of middle back pain. Yes, one reason is the obvious...youth. They have received less damage so far. Another reason is they still play sports. They still attend school recess. They play and climb and wrestle and throw things. They swing from monkey bars and flip on trampolines. The move in a variety of ways, regularly.

What do office working adults do? Or beauticians? Or truck drivers?

They sit. And they stay there. And when they move, it is minimal. It is linear and unidirectional like an 80's movie robot.


But how exactly?

  1. Rotate! This is the single most important thing you can do for the middle spine. We lock up, stiffen up, and lose function if we cannot rotate!

  1. Extend! Office workers, truck drivers, and students understand this demand. We slouch and slump and we do it for HOURS. Time to extend!

  1. Side-bend! Bend all the way right and all the way left. Do it seated. Do it standing. Do it regularly.

Step 2: Get Help

Having someone do the work for you who is better qualified is typically the best option. However, if money or local area constraints prevent you from doing so...just do the best you can.

Sometimes it can be as simple as just trying NEW things.

Change your behaviors, change your life...

"Pain is the body's demand for change"

Options include:

  • Schedule an appointment with your local physical therapist, chiropractor, or trained bodyworker

  • Hire a personal trainer

  • Join our Stretch Club

  • Check out our book Stretching for a Pain-Free Life

  • Follow along with free movement videos on Youtube

  • Pick up a sport as a hobby

In conclusion:

The middle back is often painful because there is not enough variety of movement on a daily basis. There are 24 ribs and 12 vertebrae with pulsing lungs and a beating heart underneath. All those bones are held together by muscles via joints that DEMAND MOVEMENT.

And when they do not get it, they complain. They hurt, they ache, they make us stressed out and anxious. And they contribute to other types of problems elsewhere in the body.

So move. Whatever way you decide to start moving IS the answer!

Whether that's joining your local CrossFit or signing up for our Stretch Club or scheduling an appointment with your local physio. It doesn't matter because...

The best solution is the one you will actually do.

Just start.

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