The Fitness Fixer
The Fitness Fixer

Fix One Pain, Don't Cause Another

When you stretch and exercise, especially if you stretch and exercise to improve your health, remember that the purpose is not to recreate unhealthy movement habits.

Two similar letters came in recently.

Reader Tina wrote:

"Thanks so much for your posts on stopping upper back pain. I have stopped my upper back pain. But, when I pull my neck and shoulders back, I get pain in my lower back. Which stretches should I do to stop this pain?"

Alicia wrote:

"I recently stumbled upon your articles on the Internet about how to reduce back pain. Thanks so much for providing this information! I am experiencing less pain for sure already… but I have a question. When I am keeping my neck back and shoulders back and correcting the lower back arch, I get a pinching sensation in the middle of my back. What am I doing wrong?"

Tina was doing a common unhealthy movement habit. She didn't need stretches to fix the pain; she needed to stop old injurious movement habits. Tina was leaning her upper body backward thinking she was pulling her shoulders back. Leaning backward is not correcting rounded forward shoulders, even if it seems to move the shoulders rearward. The shoulders have not moved at all just stayed rounded while the upper body pinched backward at the lower spine.

The photo at left is a performer who had just finished a trapeze performance. All the exercise and stretching she did every day didn't change her bad positioning habits.

Leaning the upper body backward (shown in the photo, left) increases the inward curve of the lower back, making a sharper angle between the pelvis and the lower spine. That increases the normal lordosis (inward lumbar curve) to hyperlordosis (too much inward curve as in the photo), which put painful pinching compression on the area. Look at the strip on her leotard. It tilts forward at the front hip and back at the back of the hip. It should be straight up and down, which is part of holding neutral spine.

The photo also shows shoulders and upper back rounded forward, and the neck and head jutting forward.

Slipping into familiar unhealthy ways of moving may be habits that occur without thinking. You need to think a bit.

Alicia was just pulling back so tightly that she pinched the area between the shoulder blades. There are sources that say that you should squeeze shoulder blades as if holding a penny between them to fix posture, but of course, that is painful and too tight.

Alicia wrote back:

"Thanks! That helps actually. The pinching was in my upper back, but it's gone now! Thanks so much for responding to me. I look forward to your class in July.

Pinching back does not fix posture or stop upper back pain. Instead, stop the causes of the rounded shoulders and the pain.

What To Do

Three short articles show how to understand and fix the causes:

  1. First read and try Fixing Upper Back and Neck Pain.
  2. The second stretch is Nice Neck Stretch.
  3. The third stretch to restore ability for upper body positioning is Friday Fast Fitness - Better Shoulder and Triceps Stretch.
What To Avoid

Don't exercise one area and hurt the next:

  1. Change Daily Reaching to Get Ab Exercise and Stop Back and Shoulder Pain shows a photo of the common bad habit of leaning the upper body backward when raising the arms.
  2. Prevent Back Surgery shows several photos of how people learn the upper body back or tilt the hip out in back during several common exercises, stretches, and daily activities. Both increase the pinching compression on the lumbar spine.

Remember to think and watch for causes instead of going through the motions of exercises and stretches.

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About the Author


Dr. Bookspan is an award-winning scientist whose goal is to make exercise easier and healthier.