What is Going On?
Things were much simpler when we were younger–do you know what I mean. Now days we are looking for the cure of our ailments and troubles of the world. Well stop right now and open a different book or URL than what you are reading at this moment.
What we can do here? We can look beyond what we are noticing as far as the pain. Pain in a chronic area of the neck and/or back is poor prognosticator of the problems location. Always consider the adjacent body areas in figuring out what to address in correcting and alleviating this common problem.
Our spine is an interesting and integrated structure composed of three primary curves. Most people who have neck (cervical) pain or lower back (lumbar) pain do not think of the thoracic spine. This thoracic spine is conveniently “surrounded” by the neck and lower back spine. This arrangement of the anatomy is a key in addressing these pains.
Remember the spine operates as an integrated structure. This means that each area is functionally related to the others. You must not just think that the anatomical structure as the cause of the pain–follow the connections.
Advice for Stopping Chronic Neck and Lower Back Pain
Let’s be practical here. First you should have had a thorough medical and movement assessment. This means that if you are having chronic pain (longer than 3 months) you should get medically cleared by your doctor. Next it would be great to have a qualified Physical Therapist or movement expert screen and assess how your structure is moving and working.
Often in my practice I find that the thoracic area is really neglected. It becomes stiff and a poor transmitter of spinal forces. The areas of the cervical and lumbar are performing way too much work (many times this is in one or two directions though). Remember the place that is complaining is certainly not the only place that should be looked at. A myopic view of pain often distorts the larger view of functional relationships of important adjacent regions.
One simple set of exercise you can immediately start is shown below. Here you are using sidelying to work on moving and mobilizing the thoracic spine in a variety of directions. During these movements you are learning much more than might be evident. A primary direction of movement is in rotation or twisting. During this twisting of the chest you are learning to stabilize the lumbar area. Over time you will get a very good sense of how much we over rotate the thoraco-lumbar to lumbar area. Therefore you can appreciate how under used the thoracic are becomes.
Also you can use a foam roller very nicely for this thoracic area. The below video emphasizes thoracic extension. There are many variations. One not shown is just to use the roller to massage the back muscles here. Most people find it very useful.
There You Have It
Try these ideas for a chronic problem with your neck or lower back. Go slowly as with anything different or new. Don’t try to perform the exercise. Rather use these as movements to explore your own body and what you are noticing. Your job here (should you accept this “Mission”) is to make a change by feeling something you haven’t felt before. This work should be in the direction of making you more comfortable and more freely moving. So use these movements as guidelines and not just a prescription of “exactly” what to do. That being said, please try it out this way for several weeks before you become too creative.
Remember to work with your breath once you have the basic movements. Stay in this sidelying position for awhile–you will be greatly benefited by putting in 15-30 minutes. These longer times really benefit from proper diaphragmatic breathing–this type of breath is not the belly expansion but the sides and all around the lower rib cage. There is an extremely important relationship with the breathing and the thoracic spine. It is a much more detailed topic than will be covered here. It is one of the keys to unlocking chronic pain.
Train and practice daily. Go and try out these movements. Write to me what you have learned.