Athletic Therapy, Biomechanics, Chronic Pain, Equestrian, Posture

Relieving upper back stiffness (and dog kisses)


Upper back stiffness is an issue for a lot of us. I woke up the other morning with what felt like 3 ribs stuck together on my left side, and as a consequence couldn’t really move to the left. This was kind of an issue when I had a full day of clients, and lots of driving that day. Even my first client of the day noted “your posture looks funny” before I even told her what was going on (I’ve clearly trained her well!). She was right. I was a postural disaster. With one hip hiked and my torso shifted to compensate for the lack of mobility in my rib cage and upper spine- it was one thing after another.

The rib cage often gets forgotten about when we talk about function and mobility. Most of us don’t breathe properly, which is another post altogether. Also- most of us don’t have the mobility in our thoracic spine (english: upper back) that we should. This is largely due to spending our days with our arms in front of us and our heads poked forwards (hey you scrolling your news feed- stand up straight!). Decreased mobility in the upper spine will also contribute to breathing patterns, and poor movement patterns elsewhere.

Why did my three ribs decide to glue themselves together they other morning? Probably because for a few weeks now I’ve been rehabbing a strained hip flexor. This has caused my pelvis to be posturally uneven and rotated, which likely was causing me to collapse in my torso to the left side.. mix in a little stress (I went to bed less then relaxed) and you have a recipe for the fascia (connective tissue woven into the muscles) to stick and the space between each rib to get smaller. Not a nice version of sticky ribs.

When any part of our skeleton isn’t happy- it can be stemming from many different sources. Whether its a structural problem you’ve had since birth, a motor control issue/postural issue that’s come over life, or because of muscular tightness (imbalances)- usually the best fix is movement. I know this. And I decided to do some self-therapy for myself to help get some of my mobility back.

In the above video I’m doing thoracic spine extensions over a foam roller. These are excellent for getting the thoracic spine moving. Even though my pain was coming from the side of my rib cage.. I know that the ribs are connected to the thoracic vertebrae, so if there is immobility at their connection- there will be further immobility in the rib’s movement too. Usually where the pain is isn’t where the problem is.

We live in a world that’s full of people/apps/blogs/products offering quick fixes. Usually, though, when it really comes down to it it’s all about following your gut and doing what feels good for you… I know my postural issues and their compensations- and it’s taken me years to figure out how to solve them when they act up (and I haven’t been taking care of them). This week was a clear example of doing the one thing I knew would feel good. After rolling out my upper back, I took a nice hot bath and did some deep breathing to relax and stretch my intercostal muscles (the muscles in between my rib cage).

The next morning I woke up to greatly decreased stiffness and pain in my rib cage.. it was still there, but very minor. I had a little stiffness and pain moved down to my sacroiliac joint and hip, but it was calm. The pain had retreated back to it’s original source, and I had more mobility. Just from taking literally 30seconds to take care of my upper spine I put myself back on track, and in a much better mind set.

This post started out as a Upper back themed post.. and it’s spiraled into a self-care lesson. Taking care of your movement doesn’t always require a large time commitment. Sometimes a few minutes at the end of a long day doing mobility work and stretching can solve A LOT of future discomfort.

Take care of yourselves out there!

PS: pets looooooooooooooooooove to help with your exercises 😉

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