The most common cause of pain in between the shoulder blades is poor posture—at work, whilst driving, eating or tapping away on our smartphones. We round our backs, the head comes forward and we collapse our chest. When you combine this with a heavy training load of cycling, in which you spend long periods of time rounded over the handlebars, surfing, swimming or lifting weights, which puts considerable stress through the shoulders and upper back, or running, in which the torso remains relatively immobile, before long, pain starts to develop in between the shoulder blades.
WHAT CAUSES THE PAIN?
When your upper back and shoulders are rounded forward, the shoulder blades start to pull away from each other. This over-stretches the muscles that support the shoulder blades—the rhomboids, lower trapezius and posterior rotator cuff muscles—causing muscle fatigue and strain in the mid back.
HOW CAN YOU FIX IT?
Even though your instinct might be to stretch your upper back, this can actually make things worse. To address the imbalance that is causing the pain, you need to stretch the muscles in the chest and the fronts of your shoulders, stabilise the shoulder blades and increase mobility in the thoracic spine.
3 POSES TO REVERSE POOR POSTURE
You can practice these poses every day, separately or together, holding each of them for 3-5 breaths, 2-3 times each. They can be fairly intense, so ease into them gently and be careful not to use force or to put yourself in any position that causes pain. Practice them every day for a few weeks and see how you feel.
If you have an injury, please see a physical therapist to get the all clear before doing any of these exercises.
1. UPWARD FACING PLANK
This is the progression for Upward Facing Plank: Hammock, Crab and the full version of the pose. All three poses are effective for eliminating pain in between the shoulder blades, so take the variation that is best for you. Externally rotate your shoulders, lift your chest, lengthen your neck and gently squeeze your shoulder blades towards each other. Hold the pose for 3-5 breaths and repeat 2-3 times.
2. BRIDGE + FISH
If Fish pose is inaccessible for you, you can practice Bridge pose to open up the chest and increase mobility in the thoracic spine. Hold one or both of these poses for 3-5 breaths and repeat 2-3 times. Again, lift your chest up and back, and draw your shoulder blades towards each other.
Here are 3 variations of Locust pose that you can cycle through for 3-5 breaths each. They are great for strengthening the muscles that support the shoulder blades—the rhomboids and lower trapezius, as well as the erector spinae, that run parallel to the spine. Focus on keeping your neck long as you draw your shoulders away from your ears.
YOUR 5 VIDEOS TO RELIEVE UPPER BACK PAIN
Here are 5 x 15-minute videos that you can practice for a more long-term solution to pain in between the shoulder blades. The first two are for beginners, the second two are intermediate and the last video is advanced as it includes Camel pose—an intense backbend (spinal extension).
I’d love to hear which poses you find effective for relieving pain in between the shoulder blades—both stretching and strengthening postures, and any routines that you regularly practice for this issue.